Old friends settle a 42-year-old sports debt – with 34 dozen doughnuts

Purdue professor pays up after Yankees top Orioles again

Elisete and Harold Thistle show off their bounty of 34 dozen doughnuts

Elisete and Harold Thistle show off their bounty of 34 dozen doughnuts (Mike Berardino / October 8, 2012)

FORT LAUDERDALE – My mission, if I chose to accept it, was simple.

Simple but crazy.

Good crazy. Heartwarming crazy.

At the request of a Purdue University communications professor named Glenn Sparks, I would deliver 34 dozen doughnuts to a Fort Lauderdale resident named Harold Thistle III.

The two boyhood friends, Class of '71 at Highland Park (N.J.) High School, had recently reconnected via Facebook. Next thing you knew Thistle, who teaches math at Miami Springs Middle School, had jokingly resurrected a decades-old gambling debt.

Sparks, an Orioles fan since the days of Brooks Robinson and Gus Triandos, had been popping off online about his long-dormant heroes. This triggered something in Thistle, a Yankees fan from his youth.

A new bet was made. If the Orioles held on to win the American League East, the debt of 17 dozen doughnuts Thistle claimed would be forgiven.

If the Yankees finished first, as usual, the debt would soar to 34 dozen Dunkin Donuts – double or nothing – in honor of the franchise Sparks' late father, Calvin, owned in their hometown.

You know what happened next.

The Yankees prevailed on the last day, earning the top seed in the AL playoffs. The Orioles claimed the wild card, ending a 15-year postseason drought,and Thistle forgave this latest score on Facebook.

"That's just the kind of guy I am," Thistle wrote.

Sparks appreciated the gesture but was still left with a nagging sense of unfinished business. He'd fallen into that hole through a series of unfortunate boyhood events: missed shots on a driveway hoop, small baseball bets, a miracle Knicks comeback against Sparks' Bullets.

Each one cost Sparks another dozen doughnuts.

Even though the two hadn't talked since 1975, it was time to settle up.

"Hey, I don't want this hanging over me in this relationship," Sparks thought.

He contacted me via email late last week and asked if I'd help. How could I refuse?

And so I found myself getting up early on Saturday, stopping off at a Dunkin Donuts on McNab Road and loading up my minivan with seven large plastic bags full of sugary goodness.

My 14-year-old son Daniel, sleepy but game, helped with the delivery.

Minutes later, we were at the front door of Thistle's condo. I introduced myself as Sparks' emissary, offered the first few boxes of those 34 dozen doughnuts and saw the shock on Thistle's face.

As we brought in the rest of the doughnuts – total cost: $169.83 -- Thistle explained the silliness to his wife, Elisete.


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