little girls play with dollhouses
little boy played with scoreboards
It started with the arrival at our house of the November 1960 issue of Friends, a magazine for Chevrolet owners. This particular issue included a two-page spread about the giant scoreboard at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
How far away could 21-inch-high characters be seen? I ran a little experiment. I found that I could read one-inch-high characters easily from a distance of 17 feet, and I could still make them out from 25 feet. Scaling up by a factor of 21, this gave a range of about 350 to 525 feet for the Coliseum scoreboard. That meant that the numbers were indeed big enough to be read from the far end zone. I developed a general rule: the ratio of height to distance should be no less than 1 to 300 and preferably 1 to 200.
The article went on to explain how the board worked. Nowadays, of course, it would be computerized. But when it was built in 1938, that technology wasn't available.
For some reason, I found all of this fascinating. Perhaps from childhood we're each predisposed to take an interest in what will become our life's work.
At the time, I was a manager for our eighth-grade basketball team. But the Claibourne-Richwood junior high school was housed in the old 1917 school building on East Ottawa Street, a building that had no gym. We had to hold our basketball practices at the town hall three blocks away.
The gym at this "Opera House" was on the second floor, with a locker room half a floor above (outlined here in green). To reach it, one had to climb a flight of iron steps on the outside of the building. I recall that one of my duties was clearing the snow from these steps.
The Opera House facilities were Spartan and old-fashioned, as one might imagine. But it did have a real Fair-Play scoreboard like the one shown below.
The coach, Don Parsons, saw me making my measurements and offered to power up the scoreboard so I could play with it, but I declined; I was on duty, and "play" was not in my job description as a team manager.
The next year, I was a Richwood High School freshman. This building (which became North Union Junior High School after I graduated) actually did have a gymnasium/auditorium. At freshman games, I sometimes was assigned to operate the scoreboard, which had probably been hanging on the wall since the high school was built in 1939. Here are two fuzzy photos.
Even when I did my job properly, there were complaints. After a basket was scored, some fans might object that I had given their team only one point. Just wait a few seconds, I wanted to say; another point will be here soon.
Also, the scoreboard was located out of the view of some of the fans, who sat on bleachers erected on the stage nearby.
Despite the drawbacks, I adapted this technology in a speculative design for a larger scoreboard that could be used for football games.
But within a couple of years, the Richwood Boosters purchased a modern scoreboard with numbers that actually lit up, including a digital clock! You can see it on the left of this 1965 photo of an intramural game, with the old scoreboard still high on the wall at the right.
For football games, I sometimes posted the numbers on a small blackboard, including down and yards and so forth, using colored chalk. I must have entertained myself this way on December 15, 1962, when the Cleveland Browns ended their season at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. A month later, we moved to a new house, and the blackboard ended up in the basement. I remember that the final remained on the board for a long time afterwards: Browns 13, 49ers 10.
In addition to the blackboard, I borrowed a clock: the electric alarm clock from my parents' bedroom, seen here in another fuzzy photo. It had a sweep second hand, and if I unplugged the electricity, it stopped. I rigged up a switch so I could start and stop the clock in response to the televised referee's signals.
Keeping time and score was more fun than merely watching the game. In a way, I was now involved. And this playing around eventually led to my career in graphics for sports television.
In 1982, I had already working in local cable TV for a dozen years. My current job was with a company, TCS, which had other interests as well: they had recently built a remote broadcast truck and were starting to televise some Pittsburgh Pirates games on regional cable. They needed some cheap entry-level workers, and my boss, Tom Huet, asked whether I wanted to learn to be an audio engineer for these broadcasts. I replied, "Actually, that character generator looks more interesting to me." Okay, he said, we'll show you how to run it.
Before I knew it, I was keeping time and score for real!