Growing up, we lived in the city of Monongahela, across the street from Williams Elementary School. It was built in the 1890s and was a yellow brick fortress about half-way up the hill that was carved over millions of years by the Monongahela River. The school was deemed “unsafe” in the 1980s and torn down, but it took the biggest wrecking ball they had to even make a dent in it. “Unsafe” my a**. The grounds around the school were our playgrounds. We played all kinds of games, rode our bikes, built cabins on the hillsides, you name it.
Since my brother and I were hockey players, this was also where we played street hockey. Our net was made of two-by-fours that we covered over with old bed sheets. We would put the net against the school and play a version of half-court basketball, where you had to take the ball back behind a line before going from defense to offense We played this version because we didn’t have a wall on the other side, just a hillside which we were constantly running down to get the ball. The other reasons were that we only had one goal. And most of the time, we had no goalie.
We did everything we could think of to convince people to play goalie. We had the finest foam rubber leg pads, a blocker glove that we made out of cardboard, a catcher’s mask and an old first baseman’s mitt that kinda looked like a goalie’s catching glove. But most of the time we would have to turn the net backwards because we couldn’t get anybody to play. To score, you had to basically bank it off the wall and into the net. It sucked.
This all changed when Chas came along.
Chas Blacka lived way up on the top of the hill. He was technically in another neighborhood, and even went to different junior high school than we did. So there was virtually no chance that our paths would ever cross. Then he showed up one day at my door. He said he was a goalie, and that he heard we played street hockey. He asked if he might be able to play. He instantly became my best friend. Now Chas wasn’t always Chas. His family called him “Chucky” which was really no name for a top-flight street hockey goalie. In the phone book, they used to abbreviate Charles as Chas. So we killed off Chucky and christened Chas.
After school, Chas would hike down the hill to my house where we kept his pads, the sticks, the home-made goal, and the Mylec balls that were worth their weight in gold because they were always getting lost over the hill. You had to use a Mylec ball as it would roll when it should and also slide when you took a shot. Other outfits made street hockey balls, but they all sucked. With the exception of the goalie, nobody wore pads, so if you got hit with a shot, it hurt like hell. And if a ball happened to hit you with the trademark, you’d get this cool “Mylec” insignia in the middle of your bruise!
Chas was good. Real good. And he had real pads and stuff. All of sudden our games where the first team to score five goals would win, wouldn’t end before it got dark. We also got to be much better players since it was so tough to get anything by him. Soon, we made the net bigger, but still it was tough to score. We would play games against other neighborhoods in town, and usually Chas was the difference.
We continued our games right into high school when we started the Ringgold High School ice hockey team. Chas wanted to play, but couldn’t skate too well. But like most goalies, having to lug all that equipment around the ice soon turned him to one of the better skaters on the team.
Soon we were able to drive, discovered girls, and kind of stopped playing street hockey over at the school. However, they started up a street hockey league in the town of Roscoe which was a ways down the river, and we put together a team mainly consisting of our high school players along with a bunch of guys we knew from the ice rink. We had a pretty good team, and we always had the best goalie.
Chas was a year behind me in school. He played well as a junior, but was an all-star as a senior. As far as I know, he still plays in the beer leagues around Pittsburgh. He might tell you the best thing about knowing me was getting into hockey, but I disagree.
It was naming him Chas.
Bonus Chas Story
The route that Chas took to get to my house was down Route 88 which cut diagonally from just outside of downtown Monongahela to the country club at the top of the hill near Chas’ house. When they built the road, they cut across many little streams and hollows which resulted in steep embankments on the side of the road facing the river. One day, Chas called and said he was on his way down, which was about a 15 minute walk. After about 45 minutes, and with no answer on his phone (no cell phones back then folks), I walked up the hill to find him. He was on the hillside of one of the embankments looking feverishly for something. I gave him what for for making me wait and asked what the heck he was looking for. He held up two $20 bills. Apparently as he was walking by, he spied some green paper fluttering through the weeds over the hillside. He then snatched up a twenty, then looked around in time to see another one some distance away. Now in the mid-70s twenty dollar bills were like hundred dollar bills today. And there was no way any kid in 8th grade would have one, let alone two. So I couldn’t blame him for being late. Instead, I jumped the guard rail and went thrashing through the weeds myself. Sure enough after about 10 minutes of searching, I found a twenty of my own. What we figured happened was that some guy got paid (it was a Friday), and put his pay envelop on the seat next to him in his car. The windows were open (it was a warm day and nobody had a/c back then) and a gust of wind must’ve blown the bills out the window and over the hill.
We spent another hour or two searching, but we didn’t find any more money. However, when word got out, there were kids on that hillside every day for a month. They didn’t find a dime, either.
We took our booty and went to the ice cream place on top of the hill. Cones were a quarter, and that was what we could usually afford to get, but that day, we ordered the $1.50 banana split!