Critical Mass

By Wentworth Durgin '68

Most recently Worthy Durgin headed community foundations in Greensboro and Cary, North Carolina.  Now retired, he is “immersed in spiritual quest and writing.”  A couple of years back, he sent Richard Gregory several perceptive vignettes of Williston life back in the sixties.  Dick, who has contributed several memoirs of his own, shared Worthy’s words with the Archives.  My thanks for Worth’s permission to publish this! — RT

Worth Durgin '68
Worthy Durgin ’68

The old gym was an outgrown, but proud building.  The basketball court was directly above the swimming pool.  During wrestling matches, when our senior heavyweight wrestler, who was deaf, wrestled, all the students there would jump and stomp in cadence so that he could feel our support, since he could not hear our cheers.  The void of the pool beneath the floor amplified the waves of exhortation.  (The common effect of this cacaphony, coupled with the knowledge that if this strong guy could not hear the cheers, he likely could not hear a potential injury-saving whistle either, led to many an expression of relief on opposing wrestlers’ faces, once they had been pinned.)  Often this was the deciding match in a meet.  But we could never carry the big guy off the mat on our shoulders — he was huge, and flaunting victory was not his style.

All this is prelude to an event in the winter of 1968.  Late one afternoon a scrawny band of ninth graders played their obligatory game with the visiting school, after the varsities and JVs had finished their swim meet and their basketball.  On such an afternoon the Willy athletes would finish in the locker room and dump their sweaty towels and stuff in Howie’s bin.  Then they would recount their epic struggles of the day to friends as they achingly climbed the gym stairs.  On this singular afternoon, two seniors pulled themselves up the banisters, climbing ever closer to “Whipper’s Tomb” and toward the scattered sounds of scattered play of gangly ninth graders.

In this time, there were in the land what were known has “happenings.”  Across America people might descend on a park for a mass picnic or blow bubbles in Times Square during lunch hour.  This winter’s day, with blackened ice packs lining the foggy drive outside the gym, a couple of upperclassmen paused for a moment before trudging through the wintery glop outside.  They went into the gym.  They started rooting for these kids whom they knew only from the dining hall.  As they stood and cheered, a bit sarcastically at first, they motioned to friends who were also coming up the stairs to come on in.  The throng of rejuvenating jocks became increasingly boisterous.  And lo and behold, the ragamuffins on the court started responding by coming back from a big deficit in points.  The team fed the cynics; the cynics fed the team.  Suddenly, I came to understand the meaning of the term “critical mass.”

During a timeout, the throng that now ringed about half the court broke into the only non-planned rendition of the school fight song I ever remember hearing:

. . . Come on, you Wildcats, and
For WIL-LIS-TON! . . .

As we slipped into the murky evening outside, we had smiles about having had a “happening.”  More genuinely, we had smiles that belied our pleasure at having helped these kids have an experience they might never have again.  But we hid many of the smiles because singing the fight song was un-cool enough, let alone enjoying it.

Over the next few days, to many of us who were there, the coach said, “Thanks.”  The kids greeted us like friends (which took some getting used to).

Did they win?  Does it matter?

Basketball -- not the 9th grade team! -- in the Old Gym, 1968. Mike Timm '68 (#25) and Cary Jubinville '68. Photo by Paul Wainwright '68.
Basketball — not the 9th grade team! — in the Old Gym, 1968. Mike Timm ’68 (#25) and Cary Jubinville ’68. Photo by Paul Wainwright ’68.

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2 thoughts on “Critical Mass”

  1. Worth has it all right on Tom Callahan. Tom was as dominant on the football field as he was on the wrestling mat. He was elected to the Deaf All-American team. A marvelous friend as a kid, and the same as a man. His mother was/is a gem, as is his wife.

    1. Just seeing your comment now, if you can believe it.

      Highlight of my 50th reunion was
      Witnessing you remember, and apology
      For trashing that dorm room (with Phil’s encouragement)

      Salutations, Cam


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