A local writer shared a story recently about his first year of playing organized football. He writes how miserable his first game as a 7th grader was and that the coach kept him after practice to make him do extra drills as punishment because he failed to successfully block an opponent. As if that were not enough, two teammates who played in the backfield were waiting for him and used their superior physical powers to demonstrate what it felt like when tackled by the opponent he kept missing to block. And finally, at the entrance of the locker room stood two hefty linemen to teach him one more lesson. However, the writer went on to explain how he used those experiences for life lessons on getting along with people and being a team player. I am glad he manages to gauge the experience as he does.
However, I see so much wrong with the tale he shared. In no words does he write of his coach or teammates taking the time to teach him how to correct what he was doing wrong. He was just plummeted for his mistakes in blocking. The coach and players seem to be first-class bullies in my opinion.
When I was a 10th grader (high school was 10-12 grades), I so wanted to play football. One hot, August practice of 1961 the coach had be line up to catch punts. The first one that came to me somehow landed in my arms and as the rumbling herd approached me I threw the ball to a coach. I was then moved to the sideline to watch. Later, as we were all taking showers, a senior named Dale yelled at me in a mocking tone, “There’s I don’t want the ball Barbee.” No soap or water could remove that stinging stain. Somehow I remained on the team only managing to hold blocking dummies during practices.
That winter I joined the wrestling team and was the 13th member of a team of twelve varsity wrestlers. I wrestled some “preliminary” matches and won some but lost many. Twelve wrestlers received varsity letters; I got the experience.
But there was the baseball team in the spring. In tryouts I was in the batter’s box taking my swings to show the coach that I could hit. I kept trying to hit the ball, but it kept being somewhere my bat was not. Then Jimmy the varsity catcher said, “Don’t try so hard.” What kid would not follow the words of a varsity player, but it was to no avail, and I was cut from the team.
The next year, my 11th grade year, I knew my career as a football player was suspect and after one of the summer scrimmages I was one of a small group cut from the team. But an assistant coach, Bob Mauldin, told me as I was turning in my gear that he needed me on the wrestling team. Because of the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before he had been away on duty, but this year he was back. And he “needed me.”
Winter came and so did wrestling season. But by then I was madly in love with a girl and at an early practice I told the team captain David that I was quitting the team to get a job for money to woo my new love. Like Coach Mauldin earlier that school year, David talked with me telling me how much the team needed me. Those words again!
The writer’s story last week brought these memories back. My experience was not, fortunately, like his except for Dale, the older player who ridiculed me instead of helping me. I fear that too many older players are like Dale, but I am so glad that Jimmy the catcher, Coach Mauldin, and David our team captain were kind. I did not play on the baseball team as I said, but I still hear Jimmy’s words of encouragement, not scorn. Coach Mauldin and David needed me, so I stayed and as Robert Frost writes, “ And that has made all the difference.”