A wasted, empty gym

Dell Franklin

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted weekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 


The middle school built this state-of-the-art gym a few years back and later replaced the outdoor basketball courts bordering Birch Avenue with schoolrooms. As a long time basketball player, I relished the idea of a gym in Cayucos. I could go down there and shoot around, and a few of us grown up locals could start games with the teenagers in town who loved the sport.

When the gym was completed, I went there one afternoon with my ball, and a woman of official standing at the school ordered me out, claiming the gym was for students only, and I was not permitted. I asked if the gym would be open on weekends for citizens of Cayucos to play on, and she said “absolutely not.” The gym was “for the kids.”

Later, I ran into a longstanding member of the school board and broached the idea of opening the gym on weekends for locals to play on, informing him that I grew up in Compton across from Roosevelt Junior High and many of us local kids hung out in the gym and learned to play under the mentoring of older players; and this is where we learned to compete and understand sportsmanship, as well as the brotherhood of team sports.

I told him that the school paid a student athlete from the local high school to make sure nobody wore street shoes in the gym, or brought in food or drink, and that he also kept the peace.

It was a way of life growing up, and it kept us out of trouble.

The member expressed enthusiasm as his eyes appeared doubtful and he mentioned insurance problems and injuries and law suits, and I told him a sign could be put up that said “people play at their own risk involving injuries.” He expressed more enthusiasm and that was the last I heard about it.

I went to a school board meeting and realized that the longstanding member didn’t want to listen to questions about opening the gym for locals. He ran the meeting like Stalin, while female members who looked like they could chew their ways through the Berlin Wall concurred with his dictatorial manner, and their only aim was to raise money and more money and boast of raising money and boast further of their accumulation of new hi-tech equipment for students who mostly had their own hi-tech equipment at home.

I soon realized furthermore that a school board was not about the community, or the children, but appeasing wealthy parents in a wealthy district, and when I asked around about the gym what I gathered was that it was used sparingly for the brief basketball season (if there is a team anymore) and mostly for plays and student activities and a venue to raise money and more money and more money.

This has been going on for years now, and when I was walking my dog Wilbur past the downtown coffee haunt one morning, I ran into big old Pete Schuler, the newest and more liberal member of the school board. Pete, a college water polo coach and former All American at the sport, said, “The gym just sits there, empty most of the time, a waste. I’m going to see what we can do about opening it up to the kids, to the community.” He added: “It won’t be easy.”

I said, “It’d be a perfect place for fathers and sons to go down and play on weekends. This used to happen at the outdoor courts back in the 1990s.”

His friend Nick, a hulking former basketball player, said, “The problem is, there aren’t hardly any fathers and sons around here anymore. This isn’t the 1990s. Hardly any kids play hoops. Mostly they surf.”

“Well, it’s worth a try,” I said. “Maybe if they opened the gym, they’d come to play.”

Fact is, I’ve seen more than a few kids walking around town dribbling basketballs. I can see where the breed of over-protective parents moving into Cayucos would be terribly fearful of allowing their kids to play a violent contact sport like pickup basketball, especially, God forbid, if it is unsupervised by school authorities and parents.

I can understand why parents would want to deter their teenagers from playing basketball in a gym where they might fall and scrape a knee and get a boo boo or twist an ankle and have their parents sue the city or the school board and force the stuffed shirts to live in a world of prevailing terror over lawsuits and injuries to whomever wants to play one of the great American athletic pastimes.

I recall a few years back when the school board successfully sued my friend Dan Chivens (lawyers fees were in the thousands), a working class man wanting to put his two boys through college, over a petty infringement of his property on the school district’s alley beside the bus barn, and he was so infuriated he actually ran for the school board.

Yet, once in the cavernous veteran’s hall, where debates were taking place among candidates, and he realized if he won he’d have to break bread with this crew of reptiles, I told him I’d vote for him and hoped he’d lose. After the debates, he whispered, “I hope to God I don’t win. Please don’t vote for me.”

“Then I won’t vote for you.”

After he lost, he said, “Thank God. I’m no politician.”

Neither is Pete Schuler, but, as a coach and teacher, he’s smart enough and experienced, and certainly tough-minded enough to do something about opening that gym, or at least getting after the reptiles, so that it’s about the kids, and not the parents, and not the goddamn money all the time.