Allegany Communications Sports
The first time I saw Buck Jankey was sometime around 1967 or ’68 and he was playing basketball at Johnson Heights playground.
Those were the days of some great pick-up basketball at Johnson Heights and all of the playgrounds in the city, or at the Constitution Park or just about any place in Cumberland where a basketball hoop stood. And the thing is, none of the great games were ever planned. You just showed up every day and if you wanted to play, you played.
On that day, Buck was playing with guys like Ernie Elliott and Dick Elliott, maybe Scott and/or Paul Rehrig, Dave Brode, Craig Courtney, maybe Dave Hill and Gary Hauger, and Greg Hare might have been there as well. These were guys who were in the prime of their high school athletic careers, or who had just graduated from high school; or, in the case of Hauger and Hill, about to enter (Hill could jump through the roof and Haugs had the gorgeous jumper even as young kids).
Those guys were Fort Hill guys because I recognized them from having gone to the Fort Hill games (I was about eight or nine at the time), and there were also the BW guys who lived right there in the neighborhood – Mike Stump, Jimmy Mellon, Eric Deremer and Frankie Murphy, the usual suspects, who were there each day playing basketball or baseball.
There was no place like the Johnson Heights playground. It was a real-life childhood dream come true every single day.
Buck reminded me of Red Klotz, at the time the player-coach of the Harlem Globetrotters’ perennial punching bag, the Washington Generals, and what I remember about Buck is he played very hard, he wasn’t overly talented and he was hot headed, always yelling at somebody. He just loved to play.
And … I thought he was somebody’s dad (he wasn’t yet) because he looked to be a bit older than the other guys. He was short and he was a little thin on top (the top of his head would turn red when he got mad, which he did often). In fact, Buck Jankey looked exactly the same to me on that day when he was a young man of 28 or 29 as he did on the last day that I saw him, which was, maybe, a month or two before his death this past June 17.
Buck Jankey never changed, other than he mellowed a great deal with the years, with children and with grandchildren and a great grandchild. He loved ice cream and still acted cranky from time to time, but the truth is Buck was a softy; a real pushover, particularly for his family and friends, and for Fort Hill High School.
From that day on, Buck would be a part of my life for the rest of my life, as he would become part of the life of every kid who would be involved in athletics at Fort Hill.
Buck graduated from Fort Hill in 1958, served in the Army and then worked at Kelly Springfield as he and his wife Martha would begin their family. Yet Buck still managed to be at football practice every single day. He was a key member of what we used to call “The Braintrust,” Fort Hill graduates and fans who attended practice every day, and who stood along the fence at the top of the visitors’ stands or at the top of the steps at Greenway during Fort Hill scrimmages, games and track meets.
When football season was over, Buck was at basketball practice every day, then baseball and track practice. I saw Buck Jankey more than I saw my family. Of course, by that time, it had long been established that Buck was family – Fort Hill family.
You see, Buck didn’t love Fort Hill; he needed Fort Hill. And Fort Hill needed him.
Buck and his pal Bernie Hansrote would begin to keep the scorebook and run the clock for Fort Hill jayvee basketball and then succeeded the legendary Doggie and Paul Cage for the varsity games. Through the years, he assisted head coaches Rick Harris, Dave Hobel, Todd Eirich and Glenn Rice. Then in the spring, he kept score for Tommy Merritt and Mike Bittner at the baseball and softball games.
He was a member of the F Club since 1970 and served as vice president and treasurer and took over as chairperson of the fall athletics program, selling programs at the football games. He drummed up advertising, sponsorships, T-shirts, anything that was needed to help the cause, which, to Buck, was first, most and always Fort Hill High School.
In 2019, Buck was honored by the We Are Fort Hill organization with the Deeds, Not Words Award for his unwavering devotion to the school.
It was quite an honor for Buck, but it was such a fitting honor, and I know it touched his heart because Fort Hill was always in his heart, and he in Fort Hill’s.
It was very easy to torture Buck, which we did most days at practice, but he loved it and he loved us. Growing up in the neighborhood and going to Fort Hill would not have been the same for me, and hundreds of other kids, if Buck hadn’t been there.
Thankfully, though, he was there, and we knew he would be there. We loved Buck and could count on him for anything, and Fort Hill did count on Buck because Buck was happiest when he was giving his all to his school and to her students.
Which was always.
Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT