Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


December 6, 2012

Steve McKee's Blog Before Blogs is Now... a Blog

Steve McKee is transforming his 40-year-old diary of his collegiate-hoops career into a captivating memory blog.

Justin Adler

While you can't rewrite the past, you can always blog about it, which is exactly what Steve McKee is doing with his "memory blog" Centaur Seasons.

Steve McKee
"There was a sense that this was a really interesting time to be at an interesting place."

Steve McKee

Before the age of WordPress, Twitter, and Tumblr, McKee documented his junior-year season the old-fashioned way, in a diary he titled, "A History of the Events of the 1972-1973 Allentown College B-Ball Season, as Chronicled by, and With the Personal Memoirs + Occassional [sic] Philosophizing of the Author, One Stephen J. McKee." And, yes, the present-day McKee is well aware that his 20-year-old self was the "know-it-all English major" that title makes him out to be.

His current blog mirrors the season that took place 40 years ago, including a preseason portion that highlights the school's history and McKee's interview (which came from his professional journalist career) with iconic UCLA coach John Wooden. While McKee's Centaurs certainly weren't Wooden's Bruins, McKee believes both teams' realizing-potential-over-wins philosophy gave them more in common than their disparate records and rankings would have you believe. "Coach John Compardo is our John Wooden," McKee said. "He is equally as legendary to us as John Wooden is to Bill Walton."

In addition to writing Centaur Seasons, McKee is also working on adapting his book My Father's Heart into a one-man-stage show, which "turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be." His alma mater hosted a formal reading in October. McKee found time between playwriting and Centaur reminiscing to tell Gelf how a Catholic school's team came to be named for virginity-taking mythological creatures, how he feels about its rebranding as the more generic Bulldogs, and why he doesn't read blogs. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Gelf Magazine: What inspired you to start writing Centaur Seasons?

Steve McKee: I had a very unique education. It was an almost brand new school out in the middle of the cornfields and the only resource the school had was the students, so, as a result, a lot was placed on us. Our team had nobody on scholarship until my senior year, and before that it was the old-fashioned, "Who wants to be on the basketball team? Raise your hand." I really think there is something in there and Centaur Seasons is my effort to see if I can find it, and turn it into a book.
When I talk to my former teammates now, we all talk about how the school was so special—I know a lot of people in a lot of colleges have that feeling, but I still insist that there was something unique to Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales and that's what I'm trying to find.

Gelf Magazine: Why did you enroll at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales?

Steve McKee: It was kind of by accident. I planned on attending Niagara University, but my father passed away in September of my senior year of high school, and I wanted to go to a school that was closer to my hometown of York, Pennsylvania. During my junior year, a recruiter from Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales had given me some literature about the school, which I kept a mental note of. After my father died, my mom suggested the school in Allentown. Eventually I went there for an entry test and everything just clicked—it all felt right.
You also can't discount the importance of the Vietnam War, because I graduated as the final class to have a student deferment, and I cannot describe how big a deal that was. You needed to be in college—if nothing else, that postponed your having to serve for four years.

Gelf Magazine: Did you realize at the time, 40 years ago, while you were writing your diary, just how special of an experience it was?

Steve McKee: My goal at the time was never to turn it into a book. I was an English major who just had to be writing. I do think even at the time I understood just how unique Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was. There was a sense that this was a really interesting time to be at an interesting place. My friend and junior-year roommate Dave Glielmi said it best: If you didn't buy into the feeling going on within the school, you either left or you had a really rough four years.

Gelf Magazine: You said you that throughout the memory blog you are trying to find exactly what made your experience at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales so unique and memorable. But can you explain what made the experience special and interesting to those who weren't a part of it?

Steve McKee: Good question. In fact, the question of Centaur Seasons, and I am using the blog itself to try to find the answer.
What I'm looking for is what made my experience and the teams' experience simultaneously unique and universal: unique, so that people want to read about something outside their own experience, but universal enough that they can relate to it. I see the idea of being "part of a team" as important to all this, as both unique (brand-new, striving, not very good) and universal (banding together, committing to it, hanging in).
There is also the personal aspect, the part of the story as it relates directly to me. I'm 6'8" and didn't play basketball in high school. From the time I got to Allentown College and did the math—new school/new program equals opportunity, at least—I was fairly driven to be not just a player on the team but the star of the team. Never mind the size of the program or its relative quality. Didn't matter, at all. This was my opportunity, and I grabbed at it.
A final bit of simultaneous unique-and-universal: Sports, at least in an idealized world, is designed to teach lessons, provide opportunities, expand horizons. Even tiny little nowhere Allentown College (the unique) provided that same chance at all this as did the gigantic college program of the day, UCLA (universal). Yes, I believe that.
Here are two posts that speak to that directly.

Gelf Magazine: How have you been getting in touch with the past Centaurs?

Steve McKee: Very fortuitously, when I was getting started on this project the new alumni directory came out, so that answers your question. But even before that, there had been enough of a network going on that it wasn't hard for me to tap into it. I did several of the interviews—talking to about 25 guys—six or seven years ago, when I was first thinking about the project.

Gelf Magazine: How closely do you follow the DeSales University Bulldogs (the current name of the Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales Centaurs)?

Steve McKee: I'll check their scores about once a week, but I don't follow it too closely. I can speak for all of us Centaurs: We were all upset when they changed their name to the Bulldogs. We were OK with them changing "Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales"—notice I keep saying the full name as a point of pride—to Desales, because everyone even then knew it was the wrong name for the college.

Gelf Magazine: What's the story behind the Centaurs team name?

Steve McKee: How it came to be is a funny story. Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales is actually in Center Valley, so they made it Centaur Valley. In mythology, centaurs got virgins drunk and then took their virginity, so for a small liberal-arts Catholic college, centaur was certainly not a great mascot. But I don't think anyone thought of it like that back then.

Gelf Magazine: How often do you get back to Center Valley to see a game?

Steve McKee: I try to get down to at least one game a year. It's amazing to walk into Billera Hall, which has grown from a very nice gym to an actual fieldhouse. We used to play in front of a 100 fans, which was actually pretty good since that was 25% of the resident student population. But they always pulled out all the bleachers very optimistically, so it looked bad because 100 people would sit in a 1,500-person-capacity gym. Now when you walk in for a game, the stands are packed and the student section has a lot of energy with drums and chants.

Gelf Magazine: In your previous Gelf interview, from 2008, you said that you don't read blogs. Has that changed at all?

Steve McKee: I still don't. It's kind of ironic, I suppose, since I'm doing a blog and I want people to read my blog. But like I said in 2008, who has the time?

Gelf Magazine: Finally, where did you get the idea for a "memory blog?" Or is this something you made up?

Steve McKee: Last time I was on Varsity Letters, I was dubbed the father of the sports blog, so if you guys want to give me credit for inventing a new style of blogs, well, I'd love to take it.

Justin Adler

Justin Adler is a graduate of the University of Arizona. He blogs here.

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Article by Justin Adler

Justin Adler is a graduate of the University of Arizona. He blogs here.

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