South High alums treasure memories of Zoom calls following death of classmate

A photo taken of a Zoom call between a group of 1973 South High School graduates. In the middle row, on the right, is Tony Hubbard, who died in May at 66.
A photo taken of a Zoom call between a group of 1973 South High School graduates. In the middle row, on the right, is Tony Hubbard, who died in May at 66.

Group of 1973 grads have gotten together regularly online to reminisce and now to mourn the loss of Tony Hubbard

Tony Hubbard was a standout basketball player at Springfield’s South High School in the early 1970s and then a significant contributor for Xavier for four seasons.

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Hubbard and a number of other 1973 South graduates, all of them members of the basketball and/or football teams, reconnected on Zoom. It started with four friends. It grew to as many as 14. One conversation lasted four hours.

Hubbard was a regular participant until one day this spring he didn’t appear on the Zoom meeting. About a week later, a member of the group, Dr. Tim Coffelt, of Springfield, heard Hubbard had died May 14. Hubbard was 66 and living in the Detroit area.

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Gary Castle, a South graduate who was the quarterback for the football team and the water boy for the basketball team, paid tribute to Hubbard on Facebook.

“We lost number 34,” said Castle, who now lives in Phoenix, Ariz. “The quiet, respectful, easy-going guy. Star hooper, better human. I will miss my friend. We spoke via zoom recently, and it was as if we were 18 again. A man’s man. Tony Hubbard, the gentle giant ... and baritone on the bus and after practice singing the Temptations. We played ( and sang) our hearts out. RIP, my brother.”

Hubbard was a 6-foot-4 center who earned Class AAA All-Ohio second team honors as a senior in 1973. He averaged 22 points per game. At Xavier, Hubbard averaged 4.4 points in 80 games from 1973-77 and started 10 games as a senior.

The 1973 South High School basketball team.
The 1973 South High School basketball team.

South finished 20-4 in Hubbard’s senior year, losing 71-45 to Cincinnati Elder in a regional final at UD Arena in part because the team bus got stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the game. The team arrived 45 minutes late, according a Dayton Daily News report at the time.

Those are the kinds of stories the former Wildcats talk about on their Zoom meetings, which started on April 18, 2020, with a conversation between Castle, Brian Brown, Randy Goforth and Mark Stoll.

The size of the group expanded thanks in part to the efforts of Brown, who tracked down Butch Hardy, the point guard for the 1973 team, in San Francisco, Hubbard in Michigan and Mark Nickells and Doug Stephenson in Dallas, among others.

“If not for the pandemic, we would have never taken the time to do something like this,” said Stoll, the former North and Springfield athletic director and longtime North baseball coach. “It was just a unique opportunity that brought a bunch of old guys back together.”

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Castle was the most tech-savvy person in the group and walked the “old guys” through the new technology, but there were some hitches.

“The first time we got together on the screen with the pictures, we had one guy in Atlanta who’s picture was just a silhouette,” Stoll said. “Hutch was down there. Hub was making fun of him because we couldn’t see him. It was almost like we were back in the lunch room at South.”

“I could see everyone’s faces but mine,” said Arthur Hutchinson, whom everyone calls Hutch. “I was in a situation where you have to log in to start the Zoom. No one told me about that. They could hear me but couldn’t see me.”

Some of the players from that era, like Ed Peal, who now lives in Atlanta, have participated in group text messages but not the Zoom calls. Peal said he goes all the way back to elementary school with many of the guys, and they learned how to win and treat each other with respect by playing for Al Turner at Hayward Middle School.

In the long conversations on Zoom, the men touched on all sorts of topics. There were plenty of basketball and football stories told, but a year ago, following the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer and the protests that followed, the group talked about the problems the country was facing and compared it to their own experiences 50 years ago.

“In light of today’s world and South being a black-and-white school, we had all those conversations and were able to discuss those things,” Castle said.

“Things were really bad racially in the early 70s,” Castle said. “What kept that school together was our basketball and football teams and the fact that white and black kids were friends.”

“We were all part of athletics,” Hutchinson said. “Everyone got along. Of course, it was competitive.”

“Everyone wanted to play, and everyone didn’t get to play,” Peal said. “We were pretty hard nosed, but people were pretty easy to get along with.”

Stoll, who is now an assistant principal at Northridge Middle School, said it all comes back to friendship. He summed up what the calls have meant in a text message.

“Fifty years ago, we all became students at South,” Stoll wrote. “Some had been friends previously. During our time at South, this group became friends — not acquaintances, but friends. After graduating from South, life took us in many directions and some of us remained close, but we never forgot about the others. Every five years at class reunions, we would get together and always be the last to leave, because we were still talking. Life has taken us down many roads and we’ve all experienced life in its different forms.

“Now we are senior citizens and entering the twilight years and this opportunity has provided all of us an unexpected pleasure. It’s something we truly appreciate and do not take for granted. One thing that everyone has expressed at the end of every Zoom call is, every man says, ‘Love Ya,’ because we all know, this may be the last time we speak. Unfortunately, we learned this with the recent passing of Tony Hubbard.”

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