James Roman ’91 Yin & Yang Time

After a few years hiatus, The James Roman Tournament returns this weekend at “The Joe” with 4 entrants: Kents Hill, Hyde-Bath, Hyde-Woodstock, and St. Thomas More (CT). The 2 Hyde squads tip off tonight at 7. Needless to say, it should be a spirited evening.

James Roman ’91 came to Hyde from the Boy’s Club of NYC. He personified that category of highest praise expressed by boarding school educators: “Great Kid.” One winter Sunday morning in 1988 while engaged in one of his favorite past times – a pick-up hoops game in our gym – he went up for a lay-up, crumpled to the floor, and never regained consciousness. As I told the students this morning, “During my headmaster tenure of 1987-1998, I’m not sure what the happiest day was, but there’s no question what the saddest one was.”

To prepare for the tournament, we held today’s meeting on the The Joe’s gym floor.  I read part of what I wrote in the December 1990 issue of Malcolm’s Monthly.  Here’s the whole issue:

Goethe and Basketball – December, 1990
The Third Annual James Roman Basketball Tournament
The Mens Finals: Hyde v. St. Dunstan’s (RI)          

As I walked down the hill from the Mansion to attend the championship finals, I privately hoped that we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves too badly. During the prelims I had watched St. Dunstan’s dismantle a KUA team which looked to have more talent than us.  Suffice it to say that the blue & gold looked to be in for a long night.  Then again, “stranger things have happened.”  I cynically thought, “Yeah?  Name one.”  Woody Allen says that “80% of life is showing up.”  I knew we’d do that much.  In attempting to inspire kids to take the high road, I’m fond of saying, “Sports is life with the volume turned up.”  Tonight I was taking the lower road and suppressing my optimism by considering sports as little more than a breeding ground of cliches.  Eventually you gotta see if they stand up to the heat of actual competition.  As I entered the gym, I harbored a few doubts.

Though we trailed from the opening tap, we managed to keep it respectable. The drama began as the game was about to end.  We were losing by eight points with only 1:38 remaining.  At that point, Larquette Johnson ’91 (DC) was fouled.  The referee then slapped a technical foul on a St. Dunstan’s player for his ungentlemanly protest of the call. Larquette stepped to the line, made both ends of the one‑and‑one from the original foul, then swished both foul shots on the technical.  We’re now down by four and as we are taking the ball out of bounds (a technical is two shots and the ball) the folks in the crowd collectively agree that it was a wise decision not to leave earlier when the home team was taking it on the chin. 

So, we inbound the ball and with two guys hanging on him like a cheap suit, ‘Quette dramatically sinks a three pointer and we’re now down by one.  We hold them on defense but they foul Bruce Truluck ’91 (SC) as he came into possession of the ball.  [Ed: Yes, the brother of Rich ’88] Bruce hasn’t scored a point in the ball game and a hush draws over the home crowd as he steps to the line for the most important moment of the game.  He swishes both of them!  We are now winning by a point.  In the closing seconds their best kid is driving down court and we foul him.  With three seconds left on the clock he steps to the line for two shots.  I thought that he’d probably make both but knew that the best we could hope for would be for him to make one, miss one and we go into overtime.  He missed both!  We’re the Champs!  (To paraphrase Maxwell Smart, “Would you believe…I knew it all along?”)

The aforementioned story of the mens’ championship finals will undoubtedly be told many times in the future at alumni weekends as Hyde alums love to share stories of athletic exploits. As the years pile up, they (alright, we) tend to exaggerate like fisherman talking about “the big one that got away.”  You see, truth is merely the primary guide for us.  It certainly isn’t the only one.  (Stick around long enough and you too will become well versed in the many loopholes of the Hyde philosophy!).  At any rate, the guys on Bud Cox’ 1990‑91 edition won’t have much need to exaggerate.  In their case, the truth is indeed as stunning as any of the fiction that will undoubtedly be circulating around during the 25th reunion.  This will have special meaning to the seniors as James Roman was in their class.  He would have been in the thick of it that night, for sure.

That evening had a very special meaning for me as well beyond the obvious fact that it justifies huge quantities of future cliches. It inspired me to believe in basic values which had become rusty in my mind.  And not just because we won.  The game could just as easily have gone the other way. However, we definitely would have lost if we hadn’t been poised to seize the moment.  It’s so much easier to focus on the obstacles rather than the possibilities.  In the words of Goethe: “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

As happy as that night’s ending might have been, I also shared with the students some harsh realties relative to that championship game.  Obviously, James Roman is no longer with us, at least not in the flesh. Neither is our opponent, St. Dunstan’s, having since closed its doors. And a few years after that night, Larquette, one of Hyde’s greatest ever athletes, was shot and killed while he sat in a parked car, a victim of DC’s drug underworld.

For me, each year The James Roman Tournament always carries intense yin and yang.  On the one hand, the stories of James, Larquette, and St. Dunstan’s School show me that nothing is promised.  On the other, the story of the 1990-91 team offer proof that amazing things can happen if you never, ever give up.

Give me an “H”!!! Onward, Malcolm