A little while ago, I praised a couple teachers who made a difference in my life. Now, I'm gonna go in the other direction - this one made a difference, but not quite like you'd expect. If writing about this is therapeutic, I should be cured. However, most of my friends have heard this story several times, and I tend to froth at the mouth when I tell it.
I was a pretty pudgy kid, always a little overweight, and an underachiever physically. Guess what, I still am. I had gone out for football in junior high, and did alright. I, along with some of my classmates, looked forward to high school football. It was going to be a challenge, because the coach was tough, and our high school team had a tradition of winning. I'm not gonna name names out of respect for his family, but he was known as "Cowboy Karl," whom I'll refer to as CK from now on.
CK had a very rough start to his practices - we had three a day for about three weeks or so. I think we might have cut back to two a day nearing the end of his prep period, known as "Hell Weeks." It was full contact with full pads and helmets. After Hell Weeks were over, we'd mostly practice in gym shorts and shoulder pads, with no contact.
Right off the bat, I was on CK's bad side. I was tubby, slow, weak - the list was endless. I was not to practice with anyone not designated a lineman. I was the only freshman on the line, and there was one sophomore. The juniors and seniors would go on to be undefeated, and all of them were at least All League, and some were All State. I'd just be coming out of my stance and I'd get slaughtered. Then, I was a worthless POS because, since I was big, I should be able to kick a senior's ass. Never mind about how much more mature they were, I was supposed get it done.
He watched me like a hawk. When we all took a break and had a tiny cup of Gatorade, I was never allowed to have a second cup. Now, of course, kids are allowed to drink plenty of fluids. Back then, it was thought that drinking more than a cup or so would cause cramps. Not that overexertion and a brief respite had anything to do with cramping up - it had to be the fluids. I can't fault CK for this - it was the prevailing theory of the time, and he was just following that.
The grass school yard had some serious landscaping done - the grade school's playground was quite a bit higher than our track, with a fairly sharp slope between them. Miscreants during practice had to "crab the hill." Naturally, I was a miscreant for many and various reasons, so I spent a lot of time on that hill.
CK played favorites, too. Where his teacher's pets might get barked at for some violation, the rest of us had to crab that hill. His pets had to work hard, but he didn't ride them like the lower forms of life represented by me. I was at the bottom. Most of the other guys were somewhere in the middle, but it was clear that I was the dregs of the barrel.
One of the drills we had involved using the tackling dummies laid side by side with about ten feet between them, creating a slot. In each slot resided a starting lineman. The rest of us lined up to take them on. The idea was for us to keep our legs oriented with the line of scrimmage - we would drive in, smack the lineman, and back out, step sideways, and drive into the next slot. This taught us not to cross our legs during a play so we could react to someone entering a newly opened hole. We could block or tackle them much more effectively than if we were chasing to a sideline and get out of position.
Probably the second guy nearly knocked me out. I remember standing in a red haze that narrowed into tunnel vision, and a roaring sound in my ears soon overcome by CK yelling at me to get my dead ass in gear. I kind of wandered through the rest of the drill and of course, the linemen hit me hard. They had to, or they'd get yelled at, too. After I weaved out of the last slot, one of the assistants took me aside and broke an ammonia capsule under my nose to help bring me back.
We usually had a crowd of regulars watching our practices. They were primarily members of the "Quarterback Club" - an organization that supported football activities. One of the members had enough and called my Dad to tell him of my treatment. This did not go over well with my father. I remember him on his way out the door to drive to town to "talk" to CK, and my mother hanging on his arm begging him not to go. According to Dad, he was the only one that needed to be talking to me that way (and he did, too!). I've always wondered what might have happened if Dad had confronted CK. Both were big men, and stubborn. I'd like to think my Dad would have kicked CK's ass, because Dad worked all day, and CK just yelled at kids all day. But, who knows.
One time, we had to line up against an individual at random for practice coming off the line out of our stance. I looked around for another lineman, and couldn't find one. Oh, great, I figured I'd get yelled at about not finding someone quickly enough. I ended up across from one of my classmates, who was a wide receiver. The assistant who had given me the ampule told me "Go ahead, it will be alright." He knew what was bothering me.
I literally slaughtered my hapless classmate. The older guys beat me off the line and generally caught me just coming out of my stance. I fought them as best I could, but I ended up on my butt frequently. Not this time. I not only beat him off the line, I put him in the dirt before I realized what I was doing. This turned out to be a ray of hope for me - I finally had evidence that I was improving and was quite competitive with my age group. The assistant coach did encourage me several times - he'd mutter under his breath that I was improving, or I was quicker, or some sort of minor praise. Rarely - but it beat getting screamed at.
I thought of quitting often. I was in this football thing for fun, and this was not. My "manhood" at age 14 had been challenged, though, so I decided to hang on until hell weeks were over. Just to prove I could take the worst CK could dish out. I saw a future of ass chewings no matter what I did or how I improved, so after the rough stuff was over - I quit.
I heard later from my debate coach that particular action really puzzled CK. I had taken his worst, and he had me pegged as a quitter, but he thought he'd have run me off a lot earlier. Me quitting after taking it all just didn't compute for him. He sure tried to make me quit; I just didn't do it until I'd proven my point. I could take his worst, but I chose not to take it anymore.
CK was also my PhysEd teacher. During that winter, I had a bout of appendicitis, which resulted in it's removal. Since about a fourth of my stomach muscles were severed and sewn together again, the surgeon excused me from any physical exertion for about six weeks. I had to sit in the bleachers while CK exercised my classmates. I got to hear plenty of muttered asides about how I was a pussy, or some such, during this time. I suppose if I'd have gone ahead and split myself open and bled out, I'd have been some sort of hero.
One of his requirements to pass PE was the ability to do ten pullups. I weighed about 180 or so back then, and that was just too much for me. I ended up with a D- for a final grade. That pissed my mother off, and she did "go to town." It didn't make any difference. Successful football coaches could do whatever they pleased back then. That was the only low score I got in high school.
I "got" what he was trying to do with me - he was gonna toughen me up. If he let on I was improving, he figured I'd slack off and not do as well. Riding me all the time would push me further faster. As far as my grade went - I didn't meet his standard.
But, I don't perform well for very long if my ass is being chewed constantly. Something about that doesn't set well with me. A Marine DI has a limited time to turn eighteen year old kids off the street into disciplined military men, when discipline will keep them alive. Coaching a mix of fourteen to seventeen year olds didn't strike me as life threatening. Also, for being such a tub of lard and a pussy, I could whip the crap out of the majority of my classmates if I chose. Seems to me a prime example of a fit specimen should have been able to kick my ass, but it wasn't so, for some reason. Not being able to do a pull up didn't seem to affect my ability to physically dominate others, if necessary. I chose not to fight all the time, but I knew I could, and win.
As I got older, obviously I matured physically. When I was in my early to mid twenties, I lost a bunch of weight. Suddenly, I could do pull ups. Lots of them. I used to hope I'd cross paths with CK and jump him - I'd tell him I wasn't a pudgy fourteen year old any more, and would he care to repeat some of the things he said to me back then? One of my classmates - while refereeing a high school game - ran into him a few years after we graduated. He made some snide comments to my buddy, about how he was still fat and slow. My buddy decided it wasn't worth it. I don't know if I'd have been that strong.
Of course, now if he's even alive, he'd be elderly. I'm certainly not in any shape to go avenging my high school self. I've never really been able to let this go. CK left after my sophomore year, and I ended up going out for football in my junior and senior years, and lettering my senior year. I never bought a letter jacket - when I got to college a high school letter jacket was pretty passe and marked you as a rube. I did get one of my old jerseys, and that meant something to me. I still have it parked away, somewhere. Mostly, though, high school football was a bust for me. When people start reminiscing about their old football stories, I remember, and I am pissed.