The trash talking started about an hour before sunrise Thursday, with a text message to Doug Blume asking if he felt like Custer at the Little Big Horn.
“My wife asked who it was. I said, ‘Who do you think?’ ” Blume said.
The text was from Steve Forge, an old high school buddy and the main organizer — and apparent chief trash-talker — of the Thanksgiving Day basketball tradition known as “Turkey Ball.”
Now in its 46th year, Turkey Ball began as a way for some high school friends to burn off some calories before their Thanksgiving Day feast. They all played with or against each other at Lewiston High School and Clarkston High School, and made sure to bring their A-games to the Turkey Ball arena.
“We’d get after it,” Blume recalled.
Over the years, though, as the kinks and cramps and mystery injuries of old age set in, their A-games transitioned into Z-games. But the old guys can still dish smack like champions.
“He (Forge) and I played basketball at Lewiston High,” Blume said. “Well, he was on the team, put it that way.”
Blume recalled one occasion when Forge, during an extended season of bench-warming glory, actually bought some popcorn from the concessionaire to chow down on during the game.
However, he begrudgingly acknowledged Forge’s prowess when it comes to trash talking.
“He’s pretty good at it,” Blume said. “But he’s not very polite. I do my trash talking here (at the gym), not at 6 a.m. in the morning.”
From its inception, Turkey Ball has been played at the Lewiston Boys and Girls Club — initially at the old location near Bert Lipps Pool, then at the current facility on Burrell Avenue.
Forge showed up there Thursday morning wearing a special order T-shirt that suggested Blume’s dreams of basketball glory were reminiscent of the Chicago Cubs, who went 108 year s before ending their World Series drought in 2016.
“Could this be the year … or not?” the T-shirt read.
Forge said he starts getting into the proper trash-talking mindset a few weeks before Thanksgiving. As his physical skills have deteriorated, that’s become one of the highlights of Turkey Ball for him.
“It’s all we have left,” he said.
He was joking — only he wasn’t joking. The quality of play Thursday wouldn’t have intimidated a sixth grade computer nerd, much less a real athlete. The enthusiasm level was off the charts, though.
Turkey Ball features two five-man teams on a half-court arena, first team to seven points wins. Teams rotate in and out throughout the morning, so everyone gets a chance to show their moves — not that they had any. Most players’ vertical leap could be measured in inches, rather than feet, and the ratio of shot attempts to shots made was about 10-to-1.
“It’s not very good,” Forge said. “We might have to cut it down from seven points to five.”
The fast breaks weren’t particularly speedy, either.
“You can clock these guys with a calendar,” said Gordy Gregg, former Lewiston fire chief and another original member of the Turkey Ball crew.
Gregg was a formidable presence on the court at one time, but after several work-related injuries he’s now just the “money man,” putting the squeeze on other players to collect donations for the Boys and Girls Club.
Turkey Ball raised nearly $1,000 for the club this year.
Only about a dozen people took part in the game the first few years, but over time the original players started bringing their kids and now their grandkids. Of the 70 or so who showed up Thursday, about half were third-generation players.
“Almost all of us have had our kids here,” said Randy Olson, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Clarkston. “I know that was one of the greatest joys for me. It’s priceless.”
As much as they obviously enjoy the trash-talking, it’s the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and spend quality time with their kids and grandkids that’s the real appeal of Turkey Ball.
“We’ve tried to take notice of that and be thankful,” Olson said. “I’m so closely knit with these guys — there’s a lot of love here, no matter what we go through.”
That said, there’s always room for a little more smack — particularly from Forge.
After one game, for example, he asked Lewiston Tribune photographer August Frank if he’d gotten a shot of Forge grabbing a rebound over Blume.
“That’s the shot you want to use,” he said.
His suggested caption? “Forge schools Blume on rebound.”
Good night, slam dunk, that’s all she wrote.
Champion for another year.
Spence may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 791-9168.