Wednesday, November 19, 2008


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.


Earl said...

Good tale, I played two years of Junior High football, lettering the last, then one year of High School football - but wanting to work after school and changing coaches made me sit the next two years out. When I was ready to graduate, after the ACT and College Board results came in the football coach told me I could have had a scholarship if I had kept playing - but I figure that was only on the test results, I was a tough player - but don't expect me to do something with the ball, I was going for the bodies they were bigger and one could do stuff to them. I still like to see games played with passion, but I like watching soccer, too. Bad coaches can ruin some parts of life, great ones can lift everyone.

Jerry in Texas said...

I had a similar experience on the other side of the weight scale. I was in the first freshman class at the new high school. Somehow, six of us freshmen got stuck in a sophomore PE class. I was 5'5" and weighed 111. Some of these guys were shaving already. It was like being sent to prison. Dodge ball was like something out of a horror movie. The PE teacher (varsity basketball coach) called me a physical misfit. Gee, now I'm motivated.

We split up into wrestling weight classes. There were only 3 in my weight group (< 120)...the 95 and 105 varsity wrestlers. I got my teeth (with braces) ground into the mat daily. At least I was done when the blood flowed.

One grading period, two of my grades didn't go through the carbon paper. I got his grade last. All A's and a C in PE. What a jerk.

Bob's Blog said...

I hope you got some therapy writing about these experiences. You made me think about some of my own.

Bill said...

Hey Jeff!

I accidently stumbled across you blog the other day.

Just FYI, I absolutely hated CK. He was an absolute jerk.

One day, about two years ago, I ran into CK somewhere (maybe Oklahoma?) I didn't recognize him at all, but Dave did.

He was a old, fat, and short guy. I thought to myself, we were 'terrified' of that?

Honestly, when I see you sometime in person, I'll share a story with about him.


Kathy B. said...

Jeff, makes me glad I'm a girl;D I know writing everything down helps relieve the pain and ease the resentment. It is real and it happened to you and it sucked. Nice thing is, you get to control the experience's outcome in your life and it appears to me it has made you stronger. Take care, Kathy

Anonymous said...

Well if you think HS FB coaches in the MW have changed, they have not.
At least not during the 1990's.

The FB coach in my 3 son's HS was exactly like CK as far as how he treated people. He got away with drinking on the job, sitting in his office during his PE class he was supposed to teach, and having sex with one of the school secretaries. He was caught by school Adm, on several occasions, but nothing was ever done.

He did not like wrestlers, so during wrestling season of my oldest son's weight training class, he collected his WT notebook, and never gave it back to him. So he gave him an F grade. My son was excellent at FB for this coach, and helped take the team to the play-offs 3 of the 4 years he played once State Champs), but my son decided his SR year to wrestle, instead of BB.

My son called me at work to let me know that he had an "F". I had no phone call or down slip regarding this from the coach (and sorry excuse for a teacher). I then left several messages for the coach to call me-no response. By the way he had no respect for women or his female co-workers, yet was paid more than any teacher on staff.

Finally, I told my boss at a Dr office,I needed to leave to take care of this problem. I went to the Superintendant's office, and asked to speak to this coach. He escorted me back to the coach's weight training class. You must understand, I had a SR with an "F", if you flunk even one class as a SR-you do not graduate!

The coach came to the door, and the Superintendant left. I began to ask questions concerning the situation, and he started out lying to me, he never ever made eye contact, and he was his erogant self! By this time I was so mad, I had forgotten how big he was, and was poking his chest with my index finger, and not speaking, in a good tone.

I had not realized it, being so angry by this time, that the loud music from the weight room was off. Apparently, all the class had stopped to watch and listen, for no one had ever, ever, stood up to this man before, and definitely not a lowly woman like myself(his opinion, not mine). By the time I had arrived a couple hours later, to my son's wrestling meet, people were coming up to me and congratulating me (even shaking my hand), for being the first person in our town to ever stand up to him (FB coach). Still nothing ever happened to him that year, anyway, but I filed a complaint, to make sure it was documented in his personel file. This set things in motion for this coach's demise, only 2 years later.

The ironic part of it all, was by the time he was fired, finally, I was in a position to hire him (HR Manager), when he was looking for a new job.

You may think I would have seized the opportunity, but I did not. The job he applied, had to be tested for dexterity, quality control and such. When I interviewed him before giving the test, I assured him he would not like the job, since some of his supervisors would be former students of his, but he insisted on being tested. I then had to give him the news, he had not passed testing to be eligible for an assemblyline job. Needless to say, an errogant man such as himself was completely humiliated, and stomped out! I am a professional and did everything by the book, but his former students had seen him enter the premises to be tested, so now they knew, since he never came to work there.

Eventually, you reap what you sow.

My three son's FB coach was abusive, in excess, too, but I had always stayed out of the sport/coaches/player business (my boys would not have let me anyway).

My boys happen to be exceptional athletes and loved the sports so much, they did not go through as much as you did Jeff, but I am certain other players did. It was tough enough for my boys, and they were gifted athletes.

Let this be a lesson to you, if the shoe fits, coaches!