A basketball game with no spectators allowed? Been there and done that. With events limiting spectator attendance due to the Coronavirus, I am reminded of a time when I was involved in a similar scenario. As radio legend Paul Harvey used to say: “Now here's the rest of the story.” 


Back in 1970, I was a young teacher at Flint Southwestern High School. Former Cadillac High School principal Tom Jobson was also a teacher at the school. We both remember what happened. 


Southwestern was one of four Flint city high schools along with Northern, Central, and Northwestern. These high schools were a part of the powerful Saginaw Valley league that included Saginaw High, Saginaw Arthur Hill, Bay City Central, and Pontiac Central. At any given time during that era several of these schools would play deep into the high school playoffs. It was arguably the best basketball conference in the state. 


Needless to say, the conference games were intense. That intensity was off the charts when the Flint schools played each other. Winning the Saginaw Valley was one thing, but winning the “City Series” was undoubtedly more important to the players, coaches, fans and alumni of each Flint high school. 


In 1970 another factor figured into this equation. There had been some civil unrest in Flint. Because of this, several decisions that were made by city and school officials during a portion of the basketball season in an attempt to avoid adding undo tensions to the passions already surrounding the rivalries, it was decided that games would be played at 4:00 PM instead of at night and that no spectators would be allowed into the games. 


At the same time, it was also decided that the games would be staged as close to “normal” as possible. Everything (except fans) would be in place – referees, clock management, official scorekeeper and public address announcer. I remember this because of a game between Flint Southwestern and Flint Northern at Southwestern. Tom Jobson recalls: “The only spectators allowed in the gym were the cheerleaders.” 


As those cheerleaders led cheers for an imaginary crowd, I was the public address announcer. The Southwestern gym was about three times the size of the current Cadillac High gym. Into this now empty cavern my player introductions reverberated off the walls. “Starting at forward...ard...ard for Southwestern...ern...ern Marshall...all...all.” As the game went on things like “basket by Jones...ones...ones” echoed into the abyss. I had to speak slowly so one echo could end before another echo started. To say this was a weird experience would be to put it mildly. 


Eventually as the season wore on, games returned to nights and fans were allowed to return to the bleachers. Still, this ranks as one of the oddest chapters in my checkered past. 


At this point I should perhaps make a comment about the Coronavirus, but things are moving so fast on this front anything I would say could be obsolete in ten minutes. However, I did come across one suggestion that I thought was pretty good. 


Since we are all in this together, there might be something we can do to support our local economy. You may be a bit wary of venturing out to patronize a local business (places often operated by our friends and neighbors). So, buy a gift card/certificate from a local business (online if it's more comfortable for you). The business will benefit from the cash flow right now and you'll have assets in your pocket for future patronage of that business. Everyone wins!


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and