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Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams

indy

indy

 

On the day of America's greatest race, I would like to take a moment to share a memory of one of its victims.

 

 

 

 

 

I grew up on a hill in Wisconsin located in the fine city of Rothschild. It was a nice place to grow up, and I often take a drive past the old house a couple of times of year, quietly reliving my moments as a whole, allowing only a few blocks time to take it in.

Like many children we had a basketball hoop hanging on the garage.

When I do drive by, the first thing I always check this out is this childhood fixture. It most likely isn't the same board my father struggled with twenty some years ago, but the last time I checked, it still remained as it had for decades.

One would expect this story to continue with the follies of father and son, or the battling of brothers in the heated spirit of sibling competition.  It certainly could, as there are many fond recollections of that nature to go around as well. Yet, to this day, that basketball hoop will forever remind me of one thing.

My neighbor-Lyle Kurtenbach.

Since the time we moved to Rothschild we had lived across the street from the Kurtenbachs. Lyle, his wife Karen and daughter Dawn, were permanent fixtures as you looked out the large bay window on the front of our own proud homestead.

Lyle, who kept a remarkably well kept home, always made a point to wave, or stop on over and talk to us kids on the weekends for a minute or two, as he faithfully attended to whatever daily chores were on his docket. Lyle was a lawn guy, and could often be found outside on a regular basis, attending to this and that as it needed attending to.

My brother and I would often be outside as well, standing in the street, heaving our basketball great distances in an effort to make the worlds longest, and most incredible shot possible. We would occasionally hit one here and there, and Lyle would sometimes walk on over to join in the game. Although nothing was ever said, I think he enjoyed chucking that basketball up there just as much as we did.

I always thought that Lyle was a pretty cool cat. He was into car racing, and as a young kid fascinated with everything that went zoom, he pretty much topped the chart of the "That guy is pretty awesome" category.

I slowly grew up with the Kurtenbachs, as we mostly watched each other in unison while occasionally stopping to converse for a moment or two.

It was nothing more than life in motion.

In 1987, I was fifteen years old. It was a May afternoon mid-week when Lyle once again took a moment to try his hand at an ultra amazing shot to the netted rim on the garage.

We chatted about our perspective weekends; our family was to head to Illinois for a weekend gathering, while Lyle and his would head out on the yearly trek to watch the Indianapolis 500.

We were enamored with his story and insanely jealous that we would be spending time at our grandmothers house, while Lyle got to watch the idols of our television and electric race track scream around the black beast at breath taking speeds. We listened to his story with undivided attention as we tossed the ball a few more times before the evening ended.

We would return from our excursion a couple of days later. We resumed our lives as normal, but as the day wore one it was noticeably quiet across the street at the Kurtenbach residence. I had started if wonder if something was wrong, as Mom and Dad seemed unusually subdued for some reason.

I don't remember exactly how the conversation transpired, but I believe my parents pulled me aside alone at first. I was the oldest at fifteen and perhaps the first test subject of the conversation before the younger siblings would hear the same.

Lyle Kurtenbach was dead.

Lyle had made it to his annual outing at the Indy Five Hundred. He was at the top of the grandstand when Tony Bettenhausen's race car lost a wheel in turn 3, and Roberto Guerrero hit it head-on at full speed with the nose cone of his machine. The loose wheel was thrown over the safety fence and struck Lyle in the head, killing him instantly. He was the first spectator killed at the race since 1960, and as of this moment is the last one as well.

Things were never the same in the neighborhood after that day.

The lights at the Kurtenbach residence would never shine as they had before, there would be no more half court shots, and eventually the remainder of the family would leave our bay window forever.

I would never be the same either.

This was the first time I experienced death. This was the first time I learned that the unknown will always play a factor. This was the first time I lost someone I knew.

This was the first time I knew what it felt like to bring a casserole across the street. This was the first time I watched sadness truly manifest itself. This was the first time I realized that life was so fragile.

One day I was shooting hoops with the man, and the next day he was gone.

It was reality that even a fifteen year old boy understood.

It was a lesson we all learn, but still, even right at this moment, remains a painful one for me at best.

There are many old basketball hoops, on many homes, in many a neighborhood, in many a city.

Mine reminds me of Lyle Kurtenbach, and I hope somehow he knows that

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Fan friendly comments only: on Comments (13) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

PackerHQ.net's picture

Bravo Alex ! Outstanding piece of writing !

Ben's picture

BORING

longtimefan's picture

Quote: <blockquote cite="comment-3781">

<strong><a href="#comment-3781" rel="nofollow">Ben</a></strong>: BORING

</blockquote>

Wow

What a douche you are

they guy takes time to write up a pretty emotional story, and all you can say is boring?

IronMan's picture

Well done Alex.

Justin Case's picture

Well written article, good to see this kind of thing. Too many 'meh' posts around ATM.

Alex's picture

Ben,

You re-define TOTAL loser.

longtimefan's picture

Ben is just jealous that he doesnt have a heart to understand your story Alex

He is known by others as the Tin Man

Jersey Al's picture

Alex,

This is a side of you I haven't seen before. Very touching article...

Al

Alex Tallitsch's picture

Strange as this may sound, if this wasn't Packers Lounge you would see it all the time.

John Dow's picture

Hey Alex, Congratulations on a well written piece. I too have fond memories of Lyle. We worked together at Master Builders for a number of years. I was out of the Kansas City office and we had just been together at a sales meeting in St Louis. I read about the accident in the news paper and was dumbfounded. As you said, Lyle was a true gentleman and I still think about him often.

Beverly Milner's picture

Alex, I was there at the race that day. I didn't witness Lyle's death but I still feel the sadness of the event. My husband and I were racing photographers and it was my first time to get a seat for this race. I posted a note at another event earlier that month requesting to purchase one ticket. I go so lucky, to get a great seat on outside turn one. Someone said to me when I showed them my treasured ticket, "Who died, so you could sit there?" No one died, they could not make the race that year but that remark really haunted me when I found out of Lyle's death and how he and his family looked forward to meeting each year in their seats at the world's most spectacular event! My deepest sympathies to you and Mr. Kurtenbach's family and friends.

Beverly Milner's picture

Alex, I was there at the race that day. I didn't witness Lyle's death but I still feel the sadness of the event. My husband and I were racing photographers and it was my first time to get a seat for this race. I posted a note at another event earlier that month requesting to purchase one ticket. I got so lucky, to get a great seat on outside turn one. Someone said to me when I showed them my treasured ticket, "Who died, so you could sit there?" No one died, they could not make the race that year but that remark really haunted me when I found out of Lyle's death and how he and his family looked forward to meeting each year in their seats at the world's most spectacular event! I am not sure when, but very soon after that day, I saw a photo of the flying tire and Lyle. Everyone was ducking but Lyle was standing looking the other way. He never knew of saw the tire coming at him. My own experiences from other racing events, things happen so fast you really don't have time to think. I had a few really close calls. My deepest sympathies to you and Mr. Kurtenbach's family and friends even after all these years a total stranger but a kindred soul (race fan) still remembers.
For those that wonder what prompted this, I was reading a book, E-Squared, chapter 4 and Pam Groute the author was using the 1987 race and winner, Al Unser, Sr. to make her point.

Beverly Milner's picture

I got so lucky, to get a great seat on outside turn one. Someone said to me when I showed them my treasured ticket, "Who died, so you could sit there?" No one died, they could not make the race that year but that remark really haunted me when I found out of Lyle's death and how he and his family looked forward to meeting each year in their seats at the world's most spectacular event! I am not sure when, but very soon after that day, I saw a photo of the flying tire and Lyle. Everyone was ducking but Lyle was standing looking the other way. He never knew or saw the tire coming at him. My own experiences from other racing events, things happen so fast you really don't have time to think. I had a few really close calls. My deepest sympathies to you and Mr. Kurtenbach's family and friends even after all these years a total stranger but a kindred soul (race fan) still remembers.
For those that wonder what prompted this, I was reading a book, E-Squared, chapter 4 and Pam Groute the author was using the 1987 race and winner, Al Unser, Sr. to make her point.

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