Editor’s note: Donald Griffith heard from several friends after The West Orange Times printed his letter about long-ago Winter Garden, so he sent some more of his memories. “Old-timers” are invited to submit t heir memories of growing up in West Orange County.
By Donald Griffith
Our house at 612 S. Boyd St. was the usual gathering place for the young in our neighborhood to get together and play — but it was not the only place we had to use for our enjoyment. North of our house on Boyd Street where the pavement ended and the dirt road began, a Mr. Metz had a wood yard. It was directly behind the house we called The Strawberry House because it had plaster strawberry images covering the outside walls. Mr. Metz’s primary use of his property was to gather up slabs of wood from the sawmills and cut them into firewood for sale. He had piles of sawdust on the property.
We approached him about letting us use some of his sawdust piles for some high-jumping and pole-vaulting. He readily agreed as long as we did not interfere with his wood-cutting business and would respect his directions on what and where we could play in the piles.
Our primary plan was to move the sawdust to our house at 612 S. Boyd. As Mr. Metz had given us permission to set up our places on his property, we decided that would be our best option. With everything right there we would have a constant supply of sawdust to replenish our areas and would not have to be moving sawdust down to our house.
For the pole-vaulting and high jumps, we went down to the edge of Lake Apopka where there was a large stand of bamboo growing. We picked out the bamboo sizes we needed for the poles to vault with, as well as the smaller poles to use for the crossbar heights. We cut them down, stripped them clean of branches. Then we hung them in a tree nearby with a concrete block tied to the end of each so that it would dry straight. Once dry, we brought them to the sawdust pits we had made and so began our competitions of pole-vaulting, high-jumping and broad-jumping, both standing and running.
It was not long before you could see a pretty good crowd there as spectators and competitors. Competition was fierce, and it was not unusual for someone in the spectator crowd to challenge the winner of the competitions. Most of the spectators were kids from other neighborhoods who would be there to challenge us for the bragging rights for their area. I was the usual winner in the pole vault. I probably had more experience than most of them because I would rarely pass by the area without stopping and doing a few vaults. I was also a fast runner and did not weigh much. I did OK in the broad jumps but never did well in the high jumps.
At Lakeview High School, when we had Field Day, I always won the pole vault from the seventh grade on. All of the poles we had available in those days were bamboo. I never lost.
The only real competition I ever had was in my senior year. Bill Irrgang and I went head to head, but I finally did beat him. We both failed at the highest point and then had to start lowering the bar before I finally won. I usually could place in the broad jumps but don’t remember ever winning. High-jumping I left to the others, as I knew I could not be a competitor there.