Saturday, April 30, 2022

From hot pants to bloomers in hoops...

St. Bonaventure athletics photo of former 
star, Marques Green, remembered for
spectacular play & baggy shorts.

 Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth NewsTribune/Saturday, 4-30-22

I’m no sports fan, that’s for sure. I can ignore any sport in a storm (or even in fair weather).


Oh, I admit I had the Super Bowl on TV this year as I sat re-reading “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. Looked up once in a while if somebody scored. I do get a kick out of the booting of field goals and extra points (all puns intended).


But of course when I was in high school many decades ago I supported our teams and dutifully attended all the games. When I was in college, at the University of Minnesota Duluth Branch (as it was known then), basketball was king.


I know this will come as a surprise to many of today’s fans, but when I was a student there, hockey, still in a regional small college league with home games at the old Duluth Curling Club, played second fiddle to basketball. Football was pretty big too, as it always is.


Well anyway, I attended lots of basketball games on campus as UMD faced fierce Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents like St. John’s, Macalester, Gustavus Adolphus and others. The UMD hoopsters had pretty good teams in those days, with a couple of big stars from my own high school alma mater, Duluth Denfeld.


I was glad when we won, but I didn’t really care much. Going to the games beat the living daylights out of hitting the books.


Why all this now? Because in watching sports reports on the 10 ‘o clock news on TV and flashing by an occasional pro basketball game en route to a movie channel, I notice the drastic change in basketball uniforms worn by the men. (There were no organized woman basketball teams in what I now ruefully call “back in my day.”)


When I was attending high school and college basketball games, the players wore trunks what were tantamount to briefs that came to be known much later as “hot pants” worn by young women. These brief trunks somewhat resembled “boxer shorts” worn by many men even today.


Year in, year out, these small trunks were worn by basketball players at every level — high school, college, pros, church, Y.


Then, a few years ago, long after I grew up and stopped watching basketball on any level, I noticed in newspaper sports page pictures and snippets of games on the news that the men’s trunks were getting longer and longer — down to the knees — and fuller and fuller, waving in the breeze as players ran to and fro (AKA back and forth) on the court.


The trunks resemble what we used to call bloomers, an ancient undergarment worn by older women made famous by the name of a city in Wisconsin. As kids we used to recite the ditty: “School’s out, school’s out, teachers wore their bloomers out, sliding down the bannisters, kissing all the janitors.” (This should not be taken as literal truth, but it worked in a few cases I knew about, sans the bannisters but likely not the bloomers.)


I never thought I’d see the day in America when basketball players wore bloomers. Lots of things seem to be going down hill in this country today.


Segue now to the present. They’re still wearing bloomer trunks, I see on the sportscasts, slimmed down a little bit, but now the players also don white long underwear under them. At least the outfits look like long underwear. They’re probably the same white tights worn by ballet dancers in “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake” and “The Bald Soprano.”


Ballet tights in basketball? Well, what’s the world coming to? What’s next, figure skates on hockey players clad in tutus?


Occasionally, as with today in this column, as a registered geezer I like to remind contemporaries of the way we were and tell the younger generation what it was like, especially in areas that don’t often get mentioned elsewhere.


Coming soon: “Tattoos — They’re not just for drunken sailors any more.”


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Gulf trip full of surprises...

Written for the Duluth News Tribune by Jim Heffernan/4-16-22 

Travel. So broadening, as they say (sometimes across the beam).


I recently got back from a car trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast up on the state’s panhandle and border with Alabama. Great weather, beautiful beaches, fine accommodations, good food, heavy traffic.


In fact the traffic was heavy almost all the way from Duluth to the Pensacola, Fla., area, near our destination. Maybe it’s COVID relief, but it’s almost bumper-to-bumper even on the many interstate freeways between here and there. Blame spring break.


Three days on the road (each way) gives you lots of time to contemplate things as you weave in and out of traffic, often surrounded by semi trucks — 18 wheelers that proliferate in some places.


Besides those huge trucks, the roads are filled with travelers in motor coaches or travel trailers, some pulling boats. Many of these are pretty elaborate. You get the feeling that if they could, some travelers would put wheels on Glensheen mansion and attach the Titanic to the back.


Not us. Compact SUV — a rather recent model with all kinds of features I do not understand, especially a screen on the dashboard that allows travelers to do just about everything except vote for Supreme Court justices. My wife is much better at this tech stuff.


Marika speaks
There was a slight problem with our dashboard gizmo though (aside from not understanding much of how it works). We did manage to hook up a smart phone to the GPS to guide us in our travels. For anyone not in the know, GPS stands for Global Positioning System in which a cadre of women in outer space tells everyone where to go. Not to hell in a handbasket, thank heaven.


Put in your destination and a space woman will tell you every highway to traverse, every turn to take. We call her Marika, and I want to thank her from the bottom of my tank (at these gas prices, that bottom is plenty ominous). I have known only one other Marika in my long life whom I suspect was pretty good at giving directions too.


But back to our slight problem. Every time we activated the GPS, the Count Basie orchestra would suddenly blare Christmas carols over the car’s speaker. It was usually “Good King Wenceslas.”


I have nothing against Count Basie or Good King Wenceslas, but you don’t exactly want to travel 1,500 miles with them. Some readers might not remember Count Basie, the famous and revered big band leader of the past. Good King Wenceslas, of course, looked out on the Feast of Stephen, when the snow was all about, deep and crisp and even. Like it was when we got back to Duluth just over a week ago. Ah, spring in the northland.


Still, riding along with royalty — a count and a king — can get a little tiring pounding down the miles between Minnesota and Florida. They didn’t interrupt all the time, though. We figured out how to stop the music and still hear Marika bawl us out every time we veered from the highway to grab a bite of lunch. She got us back on track, though, every time.


While we were there we had our daughter and her children (AKA or grandchildren) join us for frolicking on the sandy beach and wading into the sometimes turbulent Gulf. (They frolic, I watch.) To their eternal credit, they flew to Pensacola, so we met them at the airport.


As everyone knows, waiting around airports these days can be challenging, even disconcerting. I always get the same feeling when I’m at an airport: It seems like everybody else here — travelers leaving or arriving, staff, of course — knows exactly what to do, where to go at all times and I am a befuddled fool who can’t even find a bathroom in my stocking feet.


Why is that? Did I miss something in my education-courses in Airport Navigation and Procedures 101? I have flown to Europe a few times, and never failed to feel like a dumbbell in the airports while Albert Einstein’s nephew and his friends confidently work their way through the maze, warmly greeting Madame Curie’s descendants along the way.


Fortunately, I wasn’t flying this time, just meeting travelers. But I never did figure out which gate they would be coming out of until there they were, all smiles and excited to hit the beach.


Well, anyway, we’re safely back in Duluth and that’s fine. Our arrival home was greeted with a thick Twin Ports fog. We could barely see our home community. So as the sun set foggily in the west, we bade farewell to Count Basie and Good King Wenceslas as well as the reliable Marika. I think I’ll miss them. Just a bit.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at