Happy Birthday `Wheels’!
‘Wheels’ is Holly Beardslee and out of respect for proper etiquette I won’t tell how old she is but she graduated Thomaston High School in 1973. Saturday (Oct. 13) was her day to blow out the candles and celebrate one more year on the other side of the grass.
What’s prompting this acknowledgement of Holly’s birthday? Well we grew up together for a start but it is more the reminder that like so many of her generation and before she never got hers. A superb athlete, she grew up in an era when girls’ sports got all the attention of a lonely single corn stalk in a 1000-acre Nebraska corn field.
It was a time of few fans, fewer headlines and stories and little recognition. Holly and all the female athletes of that era and before deserved better. If you saw a sportswriter at a game back then it was because he probably got lost going somewhere else and was looking for a bathroom. So much of who these athletes were and what they did is resigned to the mind since there is little tangible record of it all.
Before she even hit double figures Holly was one of those athletes that made you take notice. We grew up in one of those warm “Leave It To Beaver " neighborhoods the type where your mom would send you out in the morning and say be home by supper without worrying about stalkers, guns or nefarious beings.
Atwood Road and Atwood Heights comprised most of our neighborhood, a half-mile or so circular track that provided all a kid would ever need. We had a bicycle path, a woods, blueberry bushes, several open fields and a farm with pond all under the umbrella of a cozy warmth and security.
We spent our days riding our bikes, throwing knives to see if they would stick in trees, played king of the mountain in an open field with a big dirt pile, ice skated in the winter and climbed trees. Sometimes we even took liquid detergent bottles filled with water up in those trees and squirted cars as they drove by. We played together with a ferocious contentment fueled by fun and friends. Our days were full and we came home for supper tired, happy and hungry.
As much as anything we played sports. Unlike today’s structured society where we seem to think everything our children do has to be organized, that creativity-sapping attitude was nowhere to be found. We looked at each day as a new opportunity to find the next challenge, the next game, the next mystery. We didn’t go to summer camps. Very little was organized. Ours was the day of the now almost-extinct pick-up game.
And we played everything – football in the backyards, basketball at Dave Barberet and Butch Nygren’s house, whiffle ball in the yards and baseball in a large cow field. Holly was right in the middle of it all. And she wasn’t just another body, she was better than most. We would pick teams and Holly was always one of the first chosen. She could run, hit, shoot, probably even spit with the best of them.
My mother still tells the story of the time Holly’s mother, Edie, called and said Mark (Holly’s brother) was upset because he was one of the last being picked and Holly was always one of the first. My mother didn’t quite know what to say but kids know. You wanted Holly on your team.
The tomboy with big game didn’t stop there. She took it all to high school and became a special Golden Bear. She played field hockey, volleyball, basketball and softball. She was a star in each sport. In today’s atmosphere she would be heralded as one of the very best. But, she never got hers. Female athletes languished in obscurity back then. So we remember what the mind remembers and what people that were there like legendary former Bears coach Bev Lowden who coached each sport can tell us.
“Holly unfortunately participated in sports at Thomaston when girls sports teams did not have the opportunity to play as much or be recognized with accolades like the boys teams were,” said Lowden. “She was one of the best players and even more one of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of coaching. She still continues to be an amazing athlete.”
Holly never really stopped playing. Despite a shoulder that makes overhand throwing a magical memory and a pair of creaking legs that make running and at times moving seem like an excruciating experiment (hence the name Wheels since she doesn’t have any) she was playing softball until two years ago when the league she was in folded. Pitching and directing her hits to open spots, you couldn’t ignore her. And in the mostly casual atmosphere there was still the feisty competitor looking to do damage.
Holly spends countless hours hiking these days with her husband Joe, traversing trails around the state. She goes up mountains, down mountains, around mountains. Find her a trail, she’s on it.
You can’t turn the clock back. Newspaper and internet articles aren’t suddenly going to appear for those whose only problem is that they played before so many began to notice. There are many Holly Beardslees out there who did their thing when too many were looking the other way
They never got theirs. For Holly’s birthday, she gets hers. It isn’t nearly enough. But know this, Holly could play. I know. I was part of those child pick-up games. I watched her play some games in high school although not nearly enough. I watched her play softball as an adult.
Holly was good, one of the best. Know that. Wheels UP! Happy Birthday Holly.