It was June and I was a16-year-old getting ready to enter my sophomore year in high school. I made the decision to go to the try-outs the following day for football. I remember how hot the morning was there in the locker room where I received my helmet, pants, pads, and jersey with #11 on it. To say I was anxious was an understatement. I still do not understand the process of how we were divided into two different groups. The A-group were all the kids who wanted to play varsity football. Then there was the B-group that was to become the so-called B-League. They were made up primarily of freshmen and the “smaller” returning students who had not played high school football before.
The obvious objective for all the A-group players was to be able to play on varsity. Because I was on the taller side and not a freshman, I was herded into the large group. Eventually after cuts, this larger group would be divided into Varsity and Junior Varsity teams. Junior Varsity were those kids who didn’t make it on the coveted Varsity team.
Beginning that first day, the exercises were grueling in the heat. There was a punishing amount of time running, push-ups, and sit-ups. But it is the “cage” that I remember the most. It sat about 3 feet high. The top was made of chain-link fencing and the four corner-posts were simply metal pipe. We were told to divide up into lines behind the four posts. When the whistle was blown, we were to travel as fast as possible on our hands-and-knees around the post and meet the other three guys in the middle with our heads. The one who hit the others the hardest was the “winner” for the moment. Then get back in line and do it again, again, and again.
Admittedly I was anxious about the cage. I had been wearing braces for a couple years now. I knew they were expensive and my parents sacrificed to give me the opportunity to have them. My anxiety level heightened when I noticed that one of the players went over to the coach and spit out a tooth. Before long another kid did the same thing, this time spitting out two teeth. In my young mind this exercise was becoming more ludicrous by the moment, but I gave it everything I had. Bang…crunch, bang…crunch! Miraculously I was able to keep all my teeth. And note this was just the FIRST day of summer practice. We would meet the cage over and over. It appeared the coaches used the cage as a gage of “courage and aggressiveness”.
After a few weeks of “getting in shape”, the final cut for the Varsity team was made. The talented and experienced returning players were assigned to the Varsity team. The rest of us were now on Junior Varsity (JV). Being on JV was nothing to be proud of, but it was a start in the world of football. The problem was that many, I don’t know the number, but many kids were trying out for the team. There were about 30 “extras” constantly sitting on the bench. We got to do the push-ups and sit-ups but were never allowed to actually practice.
All I wanted from Coach Anderson was a chance. I did have a question in the back of my mind, will Coach Anderson ever give me a chance to get on the field? The problem was that I had a bit of history with the Coach when he was Mr. Anderson…my eighth grade teacher in Junior High. Unbeknownst to me, we both graduated to High School the same year. He was promoted to be one of the High School coaches.
My history with Mr. Anderson came to a head one morning in 8th grade when I was in a particularly playful mood. I came into the classroom and sat in my assigned seat behind my old friend Harold Berry (no relationship). I said hi to him and then gently flicked the back of his ear. Apparently Harold got up on the wrong side of the bed, because immediately he jumped up and attacked me as I was sitting in my seat. Just at that time, Mr. Anderson walked into the classroom. He too had apparently arisen from the same position in his bed as Harold. Before I knew it, Mr. Anderson was on top up us, grabbed us both by the collar and took us to the principal’s office. There he was allowed to punish us for our grievous behavior. We both were told to drop our pants, bend over, and grab our ankles. After we did so, Mr. Anderson took the “board of education” which resembled an English cricket bat, and proceeded to give us three or four swats. No, I was not pleased. Yes, I learned never again to be playful upon entering his classroom. No, I don’t remember anything from the rest of Mr. Anderson’s history class. Yes, I now had a history with Mr. Anderson…soon to be Coach Anderson.
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