From the sports editor: 50 years later, Lake still thinks of Adams

Mike Adams famously swallowed a goldfish as classmate Phyllis Holson holds up some money. Submitted photos

The moment, silly as it was, is frozen in time.

Mike Adams, his head thrown back, dangles a goldfish over his wide-open mouth.

Harrington High classmate Phyllis Holson holds out a couple dollar bills as the incentive for Adams to swallow the fish.

Dave Adams thinks of that yearbook photo when he thinks of his kid brother, Mike.

“He would do something for a dare,” said Dave, now 77 years old. “They bet him five dollars that he wouldn’t swallow a goldfish. And he did so. He was a typical teenager.”

In the memories of those who knew him, Mike Adams is always 18. He’s always the outgoing class president, three-sport athlete who was voted ‘Best Personality’ for Harrington’s Class of 1969.

Sadly, it’s because he never lived to be any older.

This year, Lake Forest High — Harrington High’s successor — handed out the Mike Adams Award for the 50th time. The honor goes to a Lake female and male senior who, like Mike, was a three-sport athlete.

It’s a bittersweet memory for Adams’ six remaining siblings.

“He’s always been on my mind in a way because, when you lose someone like that at such an early age, you never really had a chance to see them bloom — to go off and become something,” said Dave, who was 10 years older than Mike.

“Everybody was a close-knit family. We get together and we still talk and joke about the past. We bring up Mike and the things he used to do. He’d still be on our minds.”

The Adams’, once a family of nine children, lost Mike on July 17, 1969 — about five weeks after he graduated from high school.

But the cause of his death makes the story particularly tragic. He died suddenly of kidney failure.

As far as the family is concerned, though, Mike died as the result of a hard hit he took on the football field the previous fall.

Adams’ early death may have been caused by a hit he took as the QB for Harrington.

Dave said he believes his brother suffered a serious injury while playing quarterback for Harrington but just never told anyone. He went on to wrestle — reaching the Henlopen Conference tournament finals at 120 pounds — and pitch for the baseball team as a senior.

“He might come to the sideline with a little grimace but he didn’t show the pain or anything like that,” said Dave. “Mike didn’t complain. … He told my dad that he got hurt playing football but I don’t think he told him right away — because he didn’t want to quit.

“And he didn’t tell him during wrestling season, I’m sure, because my dad would have made him quit. I don’t know where he got hit, because he never said. He just went through the pain by himself.”

Mike was with his parents in Rehoboth when he started having problems. Dave was playing softball when he got a message that his brother was being rushed to the hospital.

Doctors tried to save the young man but it was too late. Mike’s newspaper obituary says that he died in St. Francis Hospital.

The Harrington community, of course, was stunned by the news.

“Everybody was shocked about it,” said Dave. “Like I said, I don’t think anybody really knew the condition he was in.

“Everybody liked him. He was just a good, good kid. When this happened, a lot of people really were devastated.”

Like his five older brothers and their father, Mike probably would have gone into the National Guard for a while before college. Five of his siblings went into education, including Dave, who has coached off and on at Harrington and then Lake Forest.

Adams was the class president as well as a three-sport athlete in high school.

Dave thinks it’s fitting that Mike is remembered with an award for athletes. Sports were a big part of who he was as a high school student.

“He had a passion for everything he played — whatever he did, he had a passion for it,” said Dave, who was his brother’s gym teacher for two years. “I couldn’t tell you what his favorite sport really was.

“When he played, he gave everything he had for his team. He wasn’t a ‘me’ player, he was a team player.”

In a different world, Mike might have had a long coaching career. He’d still be getting together with his siblings for dinners.

But, for the popular, athletic teenager, that’s not the way his short life played out.

“If he had spoke up and said something about it, I think things may have been different,” Dave mused. “He may have still been here today. But he just didn’t tell anybody.

“He was always happy go-lucky. He hid his pain quite well, I think. He never shared it around the family.”

Odds & ends

• The Henlopen Conference had split up its baseball schedule this spring, with only games against teams in the same division counting in the standings. The North and South champions would then have played in a conference championship game.

It’s a schedule that most Henlopen sports have gone to. Of course, the schedule will still be in place for next season.

• Without the pandemic, Saturday would have been a busy day in the high school sports world. The DIAA softball state finals, among many other things, were slated.

• Dover High grad Gavin Williams was named the MVP for the Howard University men’s cross country team.

• A few weeks ago I wrote about former Lewes High baseball star Chris Short, who went on to a standout career with the Phillies. His catcher at Lewes was future Dover resident Bob Langrell.

Bob’s wife, Pat, wrote to say that Short showed up at their wedding reception in December 1966, despite the fact there were 14 inches of snow on the ground.

“Everyone was amazed to see him and we had no idea how he had learned about our wedding,” Pat recalled.