If Mike "Bo" Buchanan has anything to do with it, the 50th reunion of the West Towson Basketball Association, which happened Sunday afternoon, won't be its last.
As the the large and enthusiastic turnout on the courts near what is now the Bykota Center in his beloved West Towson proved, Buchanan's organizational skills helped him lure almost 50 former playground standouts to return to their basketball roots from as far away as Vermont and Georgia for the event.
Buchanan, a Towson High School alumnus, is persistent in his quest to maintain contact with former players, making sure they had plenty of notice for this year's edition of the reunion, which began with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by former West Towson player Tim Huss, an introduction of the assembled players, and a moment of silence for nine former comrades who have died since the last reunion in 2004.
"In the '80s and '90s we would only get about 20 to 25 guys to show up," said Buchanan, the WTBA commissioner, who is serving his ninth five-year term after taking over for Gary Hurst in 1971. "Instead of less people showing, we're kind of bucking the trend. As we get older, we get more people."
Many of the alumni went on to play the sport in high school — most notably at Loyola, Calvert Hall, Towson Catholic or Towson high schools — while several also played in college.
Players at the reunion ranged in age from their late 50s to late 60s, with one septuagenarian, Dick Grason, as the elder statesman of the group.
Several players, with the recently retired Buchanan, 63, leading the way, sported original violet-and-gold WTBA jerseys designed by the group's founders, Buchanan and Gus Grason, in 1966.
Although the idea to play on courts diagonally was broached because there were two missing backboards on the adjacent outdoor courts, the players instead broke up into teams of four-on-four with one substitute for simultaneous half-court games.
And while the games were competitive enough to induce profuse sweating on an unseasonably mild fall day, the aging process had tamped down physical skills — if not the players' joy in playing the preferred sport of their youths.
Back in the day, the competition was fierce but friendly. Solid picks and hard fouls aside, everyone seemed to get along.
"I used to play here every night before I'd go to the [Towson] Y to lift [weights]," said former Loyola high and Bucknell University player Brian Shannon, 59, a 6-foot-7 erstwhile power forward who grew up in Loch Raven Village and now lives in Harbor East. "I found out about it from a lot of Loyola High guys who played here. It was hard-core and people loved it. There were a lot of really talented guys playing here then."
Another former Loyola Don, Idlewylde native Chris Heimert, offered that attending the reunion was an "absolute honor and a joyful experience to be part of the best turnout ever."
Heimert, 59, who traveled to the event from Burlington, Vt., said that he played hoops at Villanova University and coached at Towson Catholic High School and Montana State University.
"This is brotherhood in person," he added. "It's pretty cool stuff."
Memories of summer nights
Of all the players who graced the court during the half century, Dick Voith, 61, may be the most talented — and most admired by his peers.
After leading Calvert Hall to a Catholic League basketball title as a senior, he became the all-time leading scorer at Haverford College, with 2,175 points, and a Division III First Team All-American.
The Campus Hills native, who earned a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania and is an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, scored 35 points and was named the WTBA tournament MVP at the 2001 reunion.
"He was unreal," said Lutherville resident Joe Hogan, 61.
Like his brethren, Hogan said his best memories are from playing games on summer nights on the West Towson courts.
Gus Grason, who eventually coached Towson Catholic to the top of the USA Today Super 25 girls national high school rankings from 1983-85, said that the camaraderie is what keeps him and his buddies coming back after five decades.
"People made a lot of friends here and have kept being friends their whole lives," said the 66-year-old West Towson native, who is now a real estate developer. "It's a place where you learned that you can compete and still remain friends."
Fast-paced, freewheeling pick-up basketball helped Grason develop his coaching style at TC, his alma mater.
"This place influenced me," said Grason, who hosted a party for the entourage after the games concluded. "My philosophy at TC was for the girls to play defense and then get down the floor as quickly as they could. I learned that here."
Grayson said that opportunities to play were abundant in the 1960s and '70s.
"We'd play four or five games a week," he said. "Mike [Buchanan] and I would shovel snow off the courts in the winter. It was a different kind of society then."
Jim Vogtman, 68, who was a star player at Parkville High School, before playing for former Towson Catholic coach Paul Baker at the University of Baltimore, would travel with his Putty Hill Optimist pals to find games in West Towson.
He was one of the invitees Buchanan reached out to in an email "from other neighborhoods who may not have been WTBA 'regulars,' but who played at the fabled West Towson courts from time to time."
They eventually became part of the reunion process, and have melded with rest of the group to enjoy what is left of their playing days before hip, knee or shoulder replacements are required.
The former food salesman said that he was "just glad to have scored a couple of baskets" at the last reunion in 2004.