In 1968, during a time of racial unrest, it was a champion basketball team that brought a community together, and GRPS alumni sweethearts along with it.
Pat Smith, graduating class of 1969 Ottawa Hills High School, was shooting hoops when Junior Varsity Cheerleader Kathy (Peckham), class of OHHS 1970, spotted him. You see, Kathy’s best friend, had a crush on him. She insisted they watch Pat’s every move from across the street. Kathy thought girls that were boy crazy were ridiculous, until she looked at this young man dribbling a basketball.
“I was smitten,” said Kathy. “I decided right then to ask him to the Turnabout Dance.” In February of ’68, they had a lot of dances in those days, and with a Turnabout Dance, the girls get to ask the boys.
Pat said he didn’t like to dance and didn’t want to go. So, they went to a movie instead. The movie was a shocker for its time. It was the classic movie “The Graduate” with actor Dustin Hoffman. Kathy’s mother disapproved of this and told her to “close her eyes at the dirty parts.” Their church even put the movie on the B list.
A few weeks later, Pat’s basketball team at Ottawa Hills won the Class A basketball state championship game. The whole community cheered them on with parades and a band, they were broadcasted on TV. As local heroes, Kathy welcomed the players home. Pat lived across from Iroquois Street and Kathy ran up to his family yelling “We won, we won!”
Pat’s mother graciously put her arm around Kathy and welcomed her in to meet the whole family. She served Oreo cookies and milk.
They continued to date and finished high school at Ottawa High. Pat went on to study at Junior College, Kathy went onto Aquinas and they both finishing their college education at Grand Valley State. They married in 1975 celebrating 48 years of marriage and 55 years together. They had two children, Maggie and Raleigh, who are both married.
Pat and Kathy still live in East Grand Rapids. He is an active committee member for alumni scholarships and The GRPS Foundation. Pat said he had a close relationship with Bob Hendrickson, the basketball coach at Ottawa. Bob passed away January 1 of 2022, but Pat still visits with Bob’s wife Joan on a regular basis.
They are proud of representing Grand Rapids Public Schools and felt winning the championship was like “something out of a movie.” Basketball seemed to bring the whole community together, both black and white students during a difficult time. To Pat and Kathy, the teachers, teammates, and friends they made at GRPS, will always be considered their “forever friends.”
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