Shortly after getting out of the U.S. Army in 1964, “I celebrated my 21st birthday on guard duty at Fort Knox,” Jay Gordenski said, he took up playing basketball.
And, he’s still playing. Stop by the gym in the Hastings Middle school on a Thursday night and you can watch him and his team play.
Early games were played in the early 1960’s at a “Y” center in the cafeteria of the now-demolished wing of the Hastings Middle School. In 1966, he and teammate Bob King put together a loose group of guys, “not really teams,” so they would have someone to play against.
Dave Leary, Ray Ellis and Bruce Edger are some of the players on his first team who come to mind, he said. Not tall, Jay still played center for the first 15 years, “because I could jump.” His team won the first 25 of 26 games.
When the “new” Hastings High School was built, the games moved there and A and B leagues were formed. Jay recalls with smiling satisfaction a game his B team was asked to play against the A team in a charity benefit. “You know, we beat the A team; and I was guarding Bruce Gee.”
His wife Earleen is good with him playing basketball, he said. Married since 1970, the couple live in Hastings and have two grown sons, Justin and Tay.
The current men’s YMCA basketball program has six A teams, seven B teams, a 12-game season and playoffs.
Jay credits his being able to play basketball at 73 to staying healthy and working all his life. “I’m the mechanic at the Barry County Sheriff’s Office from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., then I go home and work on other people’s cars.
“This is a sanity break for me; I just think about basketball; it gets me away for anything else and I like the exercise. They’re bunch of good guys. I’d give any of them the shirt off by back if they needed it.” They all play hard, but “win, lose or draw, we have fun.” Jay last drew a technical four in 2002, which show how he plays the game.
"I believe the way a person plays basketball, his personality, mannerisms and attitude, tells you what kind of person he is in his life.”
He “messed up" his ankle once, and broke a finger or two, but that’s it for injuries from playing. He was out of the game from June 30 to September for quadruple bypass. “I’ve got a zipper,” he said, pointing to his chest, “but, that’s got nothing to do with basketball.” He will play as long as he is physically able.
"It’s a good way to stay healthy and it’s good for my mental health, too.” His teams have had just four major sponsors since the early 60’s; Richie’s Coffee Shop, Johnny’s Pit Stop Bar, Hastings Oxygen and current sponsor, Go Go Auto Parts.
Photos: (upper left) Jay Gordenski, basketball player for 52 years.
(lower left) Matt Courtright, (from left) Jay Gordenski and Steve Speckman talk strategy while waiting for their basketball game to start.
(middle right) On the perimeter, Jay Gordenski looks for a teammate under the basket.