During my junior year in high school it was decided to put on a contest between the junior and senior classes that was modeled after television’s GE College Bowl hosted by Allen Ludden. I have no recollection of whose idea it was or how the contestants were selected, but it was the Library Club, of which I was a member, that was sponsoring the event.
The GE College Bowl, for those who might not remember, pitted two teams of four college students against each other in a contest that rewarded a quick recall of specific facts, as Ludden reminded the viewers each week. A question was asked, and if the first player to buzz in answered it correctly, that team would be given a multipart question, but if the player answered it incorrectly, the other team got a chance to answer it to qualify for the multipart question. There were a few more rules, but that’s the gist.
Anyway, somehow I was one of the four students selected to represent the junior class. The others were Debbie Miller, Maryann Shelhamer, and (I think) Pam Barry. We were all on the Honor Roll, so that probably played a part.
Then there was a hitch. Mr. Dieter was the Librarian, and hence the faculty advisor to the Library Club, and he decided that there was a conflict of interest with me being in the Library Club and being selected for Elco’s College Bowl. I’m not sure what he was thinking, but truthfully he and I had not always been on the best of terms. In any case, using whatever criteria the selection committee used (whatever that selection committee might have been), a suitable substitute was put forward, and the estimable Ken Rittle was to take my place.
I was disappointed because I had always done very well when I watched the GE College Bowl on TV; I often shouted out the answers ahead of the college students, and I would have liked the chance to demonstrate my answering prowess in front of a live audience. In short, I wanted to show off. But it was not to be.
And so the day of Elco’s College Bowl dawned.
The outlook wasn’t brilliant as I awoke that day,
For I’d be on the sidelines as Ken Rittle got to play.
And then good Kenny had a fit and twice called out my name,
“I can’t go on, it’s up to you. You’ll have to play the game.”
An hour or two before the contest was to begin, Ken approached me and gave me some lame excuse as to why he couldn’t participate in Elco’s College Bowl after all. I forget what it was but I wasn’t buying it. So he admitted that he didn’t feel right taking my place, as he thought I had gotten a bum deal. I protested some more; I wasn’t dressed for the part, meaning I wasn’t wearing a coat and tie. Ken insisted I take his sweater and tie, even though the sweater was too big for me. I finally gave in; it was a foregone conclusion that I would because I really wanted to demonstrate my mastery of quick recall of specific facts to an audience.
So there we were on the stage, Debbie, Maryann, Pam (I think it was her), and myself, sitting in front of buzzers rigged up by—whom? Gary Wells? Eric Blouch? Dennis Keener? Some combination of them?
I have no recollection of who the seniors were that we were competing against, which is odd. One would think that I would have seared into my memory the names of the four hapless students whom I was about to vanquish.
Anyway, I think it was probably Mr. Dieter who served as host and moderator.
And the questioning began.
Surprisingly, given that I’m supposed to have this terrific memory, I don’t recall many details about what happened next. I think Debbie, Maryann, and Pam each submitted some correct answers, and I know that one of our multipart questions involved the names of the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, to which I could not contribute even one pilgrim, but Maryann picked up the slack.
Then Mr. Dieter asked, “Who wrote the poem ‘Casey at the Bat’?”
And I buzzed in.
“I think that’s an anonymous poem,” I somewhat confidently answered.
“Wrong!” said Mr. Dieter (gleefully?).
And that’s pretty much all I remember.
Oh, and the fact that we lost.
And I didn’t contribute a single correct answer. (Or if I did, I don’t recall it.)
Was I nervous? Did I suffer from stage fright? Nope. I just plain didn’t know the answers to those specific questions or wasn’t able to buzz in fast enough if I did, and that’s all there was to it.
In later years when someone would encourage me to try out for a game show like Jeopardy!, I knew that I had already had my shot. I wasn’t going to try again.
Oh, and as often as I’ve read that poem, or read about it, or as often as I’ve quoted its penultimate clause, I’ve never been able to remember who wrote “Casey at the Bat”.