Peter and the Wolfe

Dec. 4, 2014
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The 1936 children’s story “Peter and the Wolf” ends with a victory parade as Peter convinces the hunters who have been tracking the wolf to help him to take the animal to a zoo. The OSC story of “Peter and the Wolfe” ends with more of a victory dance than a parade.

This particular 1977 racquetball challenge was between OSC director Peter Franken, a notorious bettor whose nickel wagers were usually loaded with unusual angles, and professor Bill Wolfe who was known to be a pretty accomplished racquetball player. Peter challenged Bill to a match with this angle: Bill would spot him 19 points out of the 21 point game. After all, Peter reasoned, he was just a beginner and Bill had been playing for many years. The bet was set and they agreed to meet on a Saturday morning. But Peter kept putting it off until the next week, and then the next, etc. Unbeknownst to Bill, Peter was taking private lessons from the best coach in town.

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The big day finally arrived. Bill showed up at the courts at McKale Center wearing a Superman muscle shirt, and Peter arrived sporting a feather in his sweatband and a big Cheshire-cat grin. Professor Jack Gaskill, dressed to the nines in a tux complete with top hat and white tennis shoes, served as referee. Several of the OSC faculty and their wives gathered at the courts to cheer with mimosas and bloody marys all around.

I recently asked Jack if he had known anything about racquetball at the time. He said he had known enough and described the game to me. “Players use rackets smaller than those used in tennis to take turns smacking a little blue rubber ball around a big white room. One person smacks the ball against one of the walls and then the next player smacks it back against the same wall. They go back and forth running around like crazy chasing the ball until eventually someone misses it and a point is scored.”

Well, after a fair amount of “smacking and chasing,” Peter’s lessons paid off. The game ended with him winning 21 to 19 after the spot. Carrying on in the true spirit of that day, the two friends continued playing against each other for many years with a constantly changing handicap.