By Dick Luedke
He whispered his broadcast. Thirteen-year-old Ricky wanted no one other than himself to hear it.
“What a great day for Emerson! Fifteen of 18 unlocked screen doors and Emerson moves into a tie for the lead with Fremont heading into tomorrow’s final day of the season. Emerson captain Gary Gustafsson says he believes momentum will carry his street to the SDL (Screen Door League) championship. Tune in tomorrow at this time to find out if he’s correct!”
The following day’s report was also whispered, and so no one other than the whisperer was tuned in. Ultimately Ricky’s broadcasts, on real radio stations, were heard by many. But it was his secret Screen Door League reports that launched his sports journalism career.
Meanwhile, Ricky’s father, who had no interest in his son pursuing such a career, unknowingly inspired those SDL reports.
Roscoe was an anti-allowance father. He did not believe his three sons should receive periodic handouts of even tiny portions of his hard-earned cash.
Ricky, his oldest son, found a way to let Roscoe know that he was in the minority, that almost all of Ricky’s contemporaries did receive scheduled payments from their parents. Roscoe’s rapid response to this revelation made it crystal clear to Ricky that he would be best served by not further exploring this issue with Dad. Given Mom’s lowly position within the family chain of command, Ricky crumpled up his allowance message points and dropped them in the trash.
In addition to being allowance-less, Ricky and his brothers received no financial compensation for completing their household chores.
Of course they were provided free room and board, the value of which was admittedly well above what they would have been paid by the most generous household chore employer. And so Ricky, even with his limited knowledge of the law, knew he had no legal case against his miserly father, and that he had best devise his own income-producing activities in order to fund his obsessions for Superman comic books, baseball cards, bubble gum, sports equipment, and novelettes featuring the likes of The Hardy Boys and Chip Hilton.
Ricky mowed lawns, weeded gardens, raked leaves, shoveled snow, and baby sat younger children, some of whom were receiving allowances that easily eclipsed his earnings.
A Paper Route
That changed when Ricky turned 13, which in 1963 was the age at which youngsters could be hired to deliver the Minneapolis Star. His increase in compensation was accompanied by a corresponding increase in workload. But the work was exciting. Ricky had been an avid reader of the Star, if only the comics and the sports section, and delivering this important information and entertainment to the people of his neighborhood was truly fulfilling.
More importantly, thanks to his father’s belief that his sons would not benefit from monetary handouts, Ricky had acquired a work ethic. He looked forward to his new job each day after school, and on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. Having no days off was no problem … at least for a while. Eventually, the seven-day-a-week schedule did become a bit tedious.
Fortunately, Roscoe, in addition to showing his son the benefits of labor, had also taught him the art of innovation in the form of manufacturing fun from an otherwise mundane task. Roscoe was constantly inventing games for his family to play.
Ricky’s paper route was composed of 70 (give or take) customers who lived on four different streets in a suburban area south of Minneapolis. The boy had been directed by his supervisor to drop the paper between the screen door and the main door. When the screen door was locked, he had to find an alternative place for his delivery. That could be challenging and Ricky therefore appreciated those who left their screen doors unlocked. But this was prior to central air conditioning being ubiquitous in homes and so main doors were frequently left open in the heat of the summer, which meant screen doors were often locked. When the weather was cooler, the main doors were more often closed (and locked) and the screen doors were therefore more likely to be unlocked. But no matter the time of year, Ricky never knew for sure whether the next screen door handle he reached for would open the door.
Creation of the Screen Door League (SDL)
This is what motivated Ricky to create the Screen Door League.
After declaring himself commissioner of the SDL, Ricky began tracking what percentage of his customers’ screen doors were unlocked on each of the four streets on his route (Dupont, Emerson, Fremont, Girard). Each day the street with the highest percentage of unlocked screen doors received three points, the one with the second highest, two points, and the one with the third loftiest percentage of unlocked screen doors, one point. The street with the most points at the end of the month was declared SDL champion.
There was just enough variation in the status of his customers’ screen doors to make tracking this competition as exhilarating for Ricky as following the Minnesota Twins in their quest to win the American League pennant. Ricky rooted as hard for his home street (Fremont) as he did for the Twins.
The young lad carried a small notebook in which he documented the daily results. He rapidly became adept at calculating, within his still-developing brain, unlocked screen door percentages (i.e. 13 for 17 = .765). After dealing with his final screen door and delivering his final paper, Ricky, cheered by the completion of his day’s work and freed from the weight of his cargo, would document the day’s SDL results in his notebook and buoyantly walk home whispering his broadcast report with updated SDL standings and fabricated quotes from the customers who had been arbitrarily designated as captains of their streets.
As the end of each SDL month approached, the level of drama would build. The championship would sometimes come down to the final deliveries on the final day. With the title on the line, Ricky’s anticipation of discovering whether a screen door was locked or unlocked reached levels previously un-attained by anyone who had ever reached for a screen door handle.
No Guinness Record, But…
It is not documented in the Guinness Book of World Records, but Ricky is convinced the levels of anticipation produced by the status of screen doors have never in the history of the world been what they were on his suburban Minneapolis paper route in the mid 60s. Acknowledging that the category is obscure, Ricky has been, and forever will be, proud of his status as the apparent all-time world leader in production levels of screen door drama.
And while he had conflicted feelings about his son’s career choice, Roscoe, had he been aware of the existence of the SDL, would have been proud as well.