The other day when looking through an assortment of cardboard boxes in my garage (I was looking for some family information to trace my heritage [more on that in a later blog]), I found my high school yearbook from my graduation year of 1966. I don’t know what the kids get today (if anything, probably a computer disk), but this book was substantial—about the size of the phone book from a city of 300,000 (I know printed phone books are fast disappearing too, but every GEEZER knows what I am talking about).
Looking through it was like opening up a time capsule. I found myself included in some of the team sports photos and those brought back a bunch of memories of what was a less than stellar sports career. In comparison to today’s high school athletes who start playing competitive sports when they are two years old, religiously lift weights and run to build up their bodies, and never quit practicing their “game,” I would be a joke.
Back then, I played sports for only one reason—it often got me out of school that I found so boring. Waste my summer running and doing calisthenics—not a chance. My preparation for football season, started on the first day of practice. Yes I was in pathetic shape, but so was everyone else. I didn’t mind it when we won, but I never saw losing as the disaster as players and coaches do today. Today there is only one goal—to win. My goal (and many of my teammates) was to have as much fun as possible.
In football, our biggest problem was our size—or should I say lack of size. We were from a small school of less than 1,000 students, but that put us in the same football conference as schools two or three times as big. While our line averaged 180-pounds per player (160, if we didn’t lie), we constantly went up against schools whose lineman averaged over 250 pounds (no lie) which always produced a pretty predictable beat-down. Add our quarterback who was so short he couldn’t see over the line and the results were pre-ordained.
Regardless of our obvious weaknesses, every game brought the same coaches spew:
—“We can beat them, they put their pants on the same as we do.” (Yea, but their pants are size XXL)
—“We just have to have faith in each other and work as a team.” (Team Seven Dwarfs)
—“Are you guys wimps or men?” (Wimpy men?)
—“You’re going to pay for this on Monday.” (And that will make a difference how?)
For me as well, every game was the same:
—“Next game is out-of-town which means I will miss a whole day of school on Friday.” (No geometry, no physics, and thank God, no Latin)
In basketball, I was a tall freshman, but while I stayed the same height, the other players got taller with every passing year. I was a starter as a freshman, second string as a sophomore, bench warmer as a junior, and a wrestler (more on that later) as a senior.
In track, I threw the shot put (who came up with the name “shot put”—seems even calling it a “cannonball thrust” or “heavy ball of steel chucking” would have been better). I never really understood the sense in seeing how far I could pitch a 12-pound sphere, but as in football, what mattered was putting another school day behind me without actually having to attend.
I always knew where I would place in a meet because my put in shot put was always exactly 43′ 5″. I could have mailed my effort in. I barely beat the putters (is that right?) from the small schools, but was outclassed by those big school putters who were all throwing 53′ 5″ (mathematically, probably because they were 20% bigger than me?). For me, what determined having a good day was that I always received a really good after-meet meal (steak) and a day off school just for throwing an iron ball a total of three times.
At one time, I found shot put so boring I decided to liven things up a bit. I took a softball about the same size as the shot put and painted it silver so that it was a surprisingly good fake. I then had one of the other kids go and find the track coach and tell him to come and watch me throw. I threw the ball about 70 feet which would have been a state record for shot put. All our less than inspiring track coach could muster up was to scratch his head, nod, and say, “Not bad, not bad,” As he walked off, I wondered over to the nice grassy lawn that was the football field and took a well deserved nap.
In my senior year, when I didn’t go out for basketball because it would mean spending another year on the bench, my athletic career turned into a total disaster. Since I was fairly big (my total qualification) and the wrestling team needed a heavyweight, I was hounded by the coach until I agreed to join up.
I soon learned that being a heavyweight meant I got to wrestle the biggest, usually meanest kid in every high school we went up against. In my first match, my foe was so big he had to sit on two folding chairs. I asked the coach, “What the hell am I supposed to do against this giant?” His well thought out advice, “Just don’t get pinned.” I wasn’t pinned but I was “soundly beaten and mangled,” but fortunately not “soundly killed.”
Since I was barely above the 180-pound weight class, I decided to lose weight so I could wrestle normal humans. I was able to lose the 10 pounds, but in doing so was completely wiped out come match time. I was pinned for the first (and only) time in my illustrious career of eight losses, no wins. From then on, I was a tiny heavyweight again.
My yearbook photos showed that the activities I was involved in all required more brawn than brains. Today, I regret not being in the photos that showed the students on the school newspaper, the yearbook staff, and playing chess. I now think I would have really enjoyed being part of those teams (they certainly smile a lot more than the people in the sports team photos).
When you look back through your yearbook (you GEEZERS must have hit or be approaching your 50th HS reunion) how do you feel about what was important to you in those early years?