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For mom, free throws at the prep level weren’t an option

MSHSL Staff Reflection by Tim Leighton

Posted: Friday, October 1, 2021 - 7:46 AM

Tim Leighton

Tim Leighton
Communications Coordinator

In the late 1940’s, my mother attended Folwell Junior High School in south Minneapolis. Throughout our childhood, she would share with me and my three siblings that she used to be the free throw shooting champion at Folwell.

We figured she was joking.

My childhood journey began in Duluth, had a two-year stop in the Battle Creek neighborhood of East St. Paul before returning full circle for my mother to south Minneapolis where I spent the majority of my formative years. As a student, yep, I attended Folwell, too. I spent plenty of time with co-curricular activities, before and after school, and wondered if my mother’s claims about being a free throw champion were true.

Astonishingly, they were. Not only was it true, she also held a school record for consecutive free throws made. I can’t recall how many, but they were underhand kind of free throw, often referred to as “granny style.” It was recorded in a journal in one of the physical education offices.

Her feat occurred during “sandwich time,” that span when organized basketball for girls had come to a halt and would not revive again until the passage of Title IX legislation in 1972. With a free throw resume like that, I think of what kind of prep career she might have had at Minneapolis Central High School. During that time, female students were relegated to playing in a gym, a park or if they were lucky, in an alley where someone might have a hoop, which was considered a luxury of the times.

For my mother, though, most of her athletic-type of displays were limited to activities like playing catch, throwing a frisbee or shooting a basketball in the driveway. She was quite skilled, I will say, at gunny-sack races and the shoe toss at family picnics.

As she became a longtime resident of south Minneapolis, more than 40 years prior to her passing in 2014, she became quite a cheerleader for the Minneapolis Public Schools, especially at the high school level. When a Minneapolis City Conference school qualified for a state tournament, she became an instant fan of that member school. And if that school qualified for a semifinal or a championship game that was televised, boy, did that get her excited.

It was during these times that I learned the value of listening and learning. To hear her stories and colorful memories of childhood and learning of the opportunities that were, and were not, available. I asked questions. Plenty of them. I wanted to visualize what it was like to not be able to go to a practice after school, to not have a coach guide you and encourage you, and perhaps most of all, what it was like to not have teammates.

It was a difficult picture to visualize.

These things were always a given. We had a wealth of opportunities in athletics, a sea of park space to use and not enough hours in the day to fit it all in. We were too young and too busy at the time to reflect on how fortunate we were to be able to run and play, to have parents volunteer as coaches and have that Schwinn as your best friend that took us from park to park, lake to lake and every adventure in between.

My mother’s generation was filled with mini trailblazers that shared their stories with passion, thoughtful reflection and encouragement to pursue the abundance of opportunities before us. As encouraging as she was to stay active and try things, she was a stickler, too, for balance and responsibility. Sure, we had plenty of fun, but there were responsibilities at home, too. There was often a to-do list and all items had to be crossed off before joining the neighborhood kids. Sprinkle in our music lessons, church activities and community service, it was a complete childhood.

I didn’t thank her enough at the time and I should have.

I was too busy shooting free throws of my own.

Russell and Jeanne Leighton-Connect October

Jeanne and Russell Leighton

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