It was an impromptu and simple game that guileless school kids turned into an almost daily sport.

I was reminded of this long-buried benchmark during an exchange of messages from a high school buddy I haven’t seen in more than 40 years.

And the special cake at the table at a recent reunion was another sober reminder of where some of us had been but also of things we held dear. The trivial moved up the ladder of substance.

The game? It started when some us found these ample sticks on the playground. "Kick the stick," was born out of boredom after a quick lunch, easy to learn but hard on shoes, As goals, we staked out trees certain distances apart on the playground or on a good day, it might be the goal posts on a football field. A group of us, taking turns, would try to be the first to kick our specially selected stick through the boundaries. It was either crude no-mount polo or really primitive soccer.

With a little work, many of us got pretty good at it — distance and accuracy. It got pretty competitive and was a boost to the shoe repair business.

I recall that trivial, but often intense little exercise, because it illustrates how simple stuff can get complicated.

Our group first heard the news of the Kennedy assassination in the middle of "kick the stick."

Fast forward many years to the cake. The Class of 1968, Kingsbury High School, Memphis, Tenn. celebrated a milestone birthday on a recent Friday night.

And seeing "Class of ‘68" on the icing of the cake opened a vault of many thoughts and many memories.

Like many schools, we have the usual 10-year increment reunions every year. But, there are reunions within reunions where any class can get together around a barbecue dinner and fund-raising golf tournament. Every year, the Class of 1968 has had by far the best attendance (usually double) of any group there, even the ones who have the traditional benchmark events.

Some of us wondered why.

That led about us being one of those watershed groups of history, maybe the latest class in the 20th century entirely rooted in innocence. We were a class that combined the idealism of our parents (who had come out of World War II), the quixotic drive that we had the opportunity to change the world and the naivete to not know how complicated that rapidly changing the world really was.

The worst thing a person could do was get drunk — or maybe get caught smoking, go to a dance and then get drunk.

Many of us -— who ran in different circles in those days — talked how if there was anyone in our school doing drugs, we didn’t know it. The "highest" some of us got was from smelling the ink off those freshly mimeographed test sheets — or may be taking Alka-Selzer and mixing it with different non-alcoholic beverages.

If a couple of guys or gals got real mad, word circulated that there would be a fight at a certain nearby location after school. A crowd would gather. Words, punches and kicks were exchanged and usually both combatants would end up on the ground in leg locks and choke holds. Someone would submit; sometimes it would be mutual.

Whoever was better was better, but that was it. It was settled. It most cases there would be no concept of revenge. You moved on to the next dispute.

We had the usual clicks and groups of special friends, usually developed around interests. We knew people and we knew of other people.

We had some many smart people with so many ideals.

Then, the world changed faster than we had the ability and time to change.

Within a few months as spring flowed into summer (as we were planning for college), Martin Luther King was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, parts of cities began burning from protests, violence broke out in normally peaceful places, we encountered the nuances of race face to face, Vietnam intensified and some of the guys we used to play pickup basketball with were drafted, then wounded — and a few died. 

Some deeply ingrained beliefs were challenged and many of us discovered that many of them were wrong — or misdirected.

That existence that had been so black and white and straight and narrow turned into a jagged maze.

But as some of us talked at that reunion, the cool thing was we were all in various sections of that maze together.

And as we ate cake and talked at the latest gathering, it was invigorating to realize that how so many of us, disconnected in various locations of the snarled jungle for so long, had connected again.

And we realized we may have been a last of a generation that was inspired by pure idealism in a naive concept of how we all interact on this earth.

The world is no less complicated but we have found a unifying point. And the bond has come from the disjointed but somehow almost magically connected journey.

We were still a community but didn’t realize the scope.

And it’s fun to get together now because it’s nice to reflect on a time and existence that was simple, much less complicated and realizing we made it through the whirlwind of growing up and adapting.

"Kick the stick" was neither chess nor football. But it was a game so symbolic. We chose our stick, we kicked it over different terrain, there were different challenges, our shoes and clothing got messed up and a little dirty. But most of us got from Point A to Point B.

As we celebrated a year of milestone birthdays together, we smiled at old stories, relationships separated by life’s circumstances but relationships renewed by a common bond of community.

A journey, so many years apart, but in so many ways together.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)