A Restoration Appreciation: The Warriors Club And Tournament Time

Progress has little sentimentality, and it's sometimes surprising how easy it is for the brain to forget and adapt, especially to that which is no longer seen. In the hamlet of Lakewood, churches have become CVS. The Detroit Theater a McDonald's. Miller's Dining Room an Auto Zone. And Lakewood Hospital...there was one?

Tides turn. Cliffs crumble. Youth eventually ellipses and dissolves...

Then, on a thick, gray Tuesday morning in February, while traveling on Detroit onto Granger then a left on Northwood, you happen by an old haunt, the grade school through middle in which much of life's template was created and unfolded, friendships made, dreams un-spooling and drifting toward the some day. And on this February day, the lights are on in your classrooms. Those warm long ago nooks.  There's something going on in all those lighted squares. Even after all these years.

It brings a smile. And quiet thanks, volleyed toward whomever felt that this place was worth preserving, worth providing a new life for. You don't often see such. 

As many may know by now, commercial redevelopment and repurposing partners, Jesse Oster and Sean Nugent, have restored and revitalized the Saint James School building, retaining the integrity of the original brick and mortar craftsmanship itself while creating a business oasis for solo contractors, needing day-to-day energy and space for their own work, as well as teams that now call it home.

“Oster Services has a long history of rehabbing older homes and commercial buildings while keeping aspects that define the character of the original building,” Sean Nugent told Cleveland.com in an overview last fall. Oster Services, calling Lakewood home for nearly a decade, has created a mission niche for itself involving historic renovation in both residential and institutional settings. In the process, they have likewise restored that little wisp of a smile for my youth, stoking a little sentimentality, whether intentionally or not.

Perhaps for some most notably - on a few early spring weekends - the St. James Gym, which reportedly has been ordained the Warriors' Club.

A little context...  

At eleven, you're nearly old enough to hang out, yet with really nowhere to go. If you have a paper route, you can maybe go collecting, but generally you're mainly on a neighborhood roam until you arrive some two hours hence back home, especially in the dormant hibernation of the winter months.

But then, a crocus appears. The pastel evening stays a little longer, and the sounds of snow piles melting into curb gutters into sewers along your strolling streets beckon and gradually then suddenly...

It's Tournament Time.

Long before March Madness, there was, on early Saturday and Sunday afternoons in late February through mid- March, the St. James Tournament. A confluence of Catholic middle-school basketball teams traveling from across the vast west side expanse to see who was better, and then who was best.

Then, one false spring day, when the sun is right and the confidence is cresting, you solo toward the gym, not sure if anyone will even recognize you outside of the classroom. Everyone's already probably sitting with someone else. Nevertheless.

Somewhere near Spring Garden and Detroit, you maybe hear a crescendo of cheers; a referee's whistle; an old buzzer clock signaling time-outs and substitutions; the sneaker cadence of defense, the chatter and cheers, the syncopation of competition.

By the time you enter the gym, there is the popcorn, and the hotdogs, and squares of plain pizza, sold alongside Dixie cups of Seven-Ups and Cokes, beside the donuts. And the Bub's Daddy's, and Marathon Bars. They are comforting. For, standing alone in the foyer could be about as daunting and intimidating as anything might ever be...especially in your initial tween years of rookie adolescence. The comfort of tournament foods: You buy a Coke and a pizza square, you own something. You might look like you belong.

Familiar parish family faces emerge into focus, blended with scores of strangers comprised of opposing teams, and their parents and their boosters and coaches and cheerleaders, from exotic parishes across town: Mount Carmel, St. Rocco, Our Lady of Fatima... Teams you haven't seen before. Many of them taller. Faster. Likely tougher? All line up across from the further west, westside teams from beyond Lakewood's inner suburb, themselves hailing from throughout the hulking West Suburban Parochial League.

You find a place to squeeze in somewhere. Chow a dog and gulp a coke. And somewhere during the next quarter, gradually, suddenly, you're a part of it all. You're a resident.

In that space, that gymnasium, you sometimes grew, for better and worse, into the early and forever you. That once home-court cracker box that sported old-school radiators - two along either baseline in the corner-shot spot, home-cooking variables that only winter nights of trial and practice and error, diving for loose balls going strong for layups while avoiding crushing your back on the grills... You learned how to make use of the radiators. Home-court advantage. And when the home team was on high, and the clock ticking down, and the crowd – maybe a hundred that sounded like thousands – nearly raising the roof... And the promise of Yes. 

And thus Tournament Time early spring brings in a the new, first level of adventure, the glimpse of possibility. The first whiff of what-if...

And that bit of that, the feel through dimensions to what has been and what is new and how the future may unfold. All of it could have simply been torn down. Been bulldozed and demolished, left to memory and rubble.

And these guys. These guys chose otherwise.

It's a story that's nice to hear.. One that feels maybe worth sharing.

Icon Workspaces https://www.iconcowork.com/workspaces-4

Oster Services https://osterservices.net/about

Matthew K. Weiland

Matthew K. Weiland is a Lakewood resident

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Volume 19, Issue 6, Posted 12:10 PM, 03.15.2023