When I was a kid, I was pretty involved in sports. In elementary school, I played basketball, Little League, flag football, and participated in track. I was very young and relatively skinny then, so I (like most young, skinny kids) did pretty well at sports.
Then I entered high school, and everything changed.
In high school, I started to put on weight. I stopped growing vertically, but I didn’t limit my eating, so I began to grow horizontally.
In other words, I got fat.
Even though I was fat, I tried my hand at various sports. Okay, not really “various”… more like a few. And two is really more like “a couple” than it is “a few”, so I really participated in “a couple” of sports in high school: football and track. Needless to say, I really pretty much sucked at both of them.
I went out for football because my dad really wanted me to. I went out for track so that I wouldn’t put on a tremendous amount of gut-fat before the next football season.
I totally sucked at track. I attempted the javelin, discus and shot put. I was too fat to run or jump, and I wasn’t strong enough to excel at any of the “strong guy” events. I remember one of the coaches didn’t like me very much. In fact, I would dare say that man hated me. I wasn’t good enough to really even be on track, but I went out all four years. This may be hard to believe, but I was kind of a smart-ass in high school. I was never disrespectful to my teachers or coaches, but I liked to make people laugh… and apparently this coach didn’t share my sense of humor. Also, one of his pet runners was one of my best friends. This coach felt that I was a bad influence on his pet. Little did this coach know that his pet was far more of a bad influence on me that I could have ever been on him. However, I liked my friend and was happy when he had success with his running. So, I put up with all of the crap that jackass coach dished out solely to me. I can’t remember a single thing that I did to that man that would have made him hate me so much… but he never once had a kind word for me… not even a smile. Whatever. It’s not like I hold a grudge or anything… that miserable son of a …
Anywho, football was a little more up my alley. I understood the game, and I even came to enjoy playing it. I actually came to believe that I wasn’t half bad at it. My junior year, our varsity team went undefeated and won the Montana Class A State Football Championship. That championship was in 1986… and was the last year to date that a Glasgow, MT football team has won state. I should be proud, right? Well, seeing as how I really didn’t have anything to do with it, nah. In fact, that championship year actually kind of ruined sportsmanship for me. I am probably the poorest loser ever… and I have had plenty of practice.
The summer before our big championship year, my buddy and I started hitting the weight room. At first, we were the only football players there. We really wanted to get a shot to start on a team that we both knew was going to kick butt. Slowly, more and more of the kids from the team started showing up in the weight room. By the end of summer, most every starter on that championship team was in that weight room lifting weights, every starter… and me. I could press a mean bench, and I could squat the crap out of those weights, but I weighed all of a buck-75, and I still wasn’t extraordinarily fast… so I got to sit the bench. Those who tell you that if you want something bad enough and work for something hard enough you’ll get it… are full of crap. I learned this when I was 16-years old. It’s a lesson that I have never forgotten.
Because I showed such dedication in the weight room, the coach must have felt like he needed to throw me a bone. I was put on special teams. I was the center for PAT (point after touchdown). I believe I was on the kick-off team as well. Bones for those who have the determination and put forth the effort… but really aren’t good enough. Some people just aren’t meant for athletics. I hate bones.
So anyway, the team went undefeated in an impressive way and slaughtered most of the competition. Of course, the summer in the weight room was the last time I really ever felt like part of the team, but I was happy for them. And I was ready for the next year.
Another summer was spent in the weight room, a bunch of talented seniors graduated, and I knew that I should have a starting spot. I really like playing middle linebacker (which is where I played in junior varsity), and I didn’t mind center (which I also played in JV). The season starts, and I get both a starting linebacker spot and the starting center spot. Finally, I get to play real high school football and contribute to the team.
The first game comes and goes, and we lose. I felt like I did pretty good. A got a couple of tackles during the game and had several assists. The next week, during practice, the coach pulls me aside and says, “Rich, we don’t have anyone to back you up at center. If you get hurt, we’re in trouble. I’m pulling you from linebacker and we’re going to have you focus on your duties as center.”
I wasn’t stupid. Apparently the coach thought I was. Almost every other player on that team played both ways, and there were many of them who were a hell of a lot more important to the team than I was at center. Like our quarterback, and our running backs, and our receivers… all of whom played both ways. Also, there were two guys who could easily replace me at center… one of whom was a year younger than me but was awesome. He went on to be the center for the Wyoming Cowboys on a scholarship after high school. The coach was feeding me a line of crap, and I knew it. He probably wanted to stick someone else at center as well, but my commitment to the weight room and the fact that I was a senior probably led him to feel obligated to keep me in a starting position… for at least half of the game. I came really close to quitting the team, but I figured I’d stick it out for my final year.
“Sure, Coach, whatever you need me to do,” I said.
We went four-for-four that year. Not nearly as impressive as our predecessors the previous year, but not too shabby considering that a large volume of talent graduated the previous year… and considering that all focus from the coaching staff had gone into those (mostly) seniors and that team.
Still, old people in Glasgow, MT at that time lived and died by Scottie football. It reminds me a lot about how stupid people in Nebraska get about Husker football. I remember one evening, a lot of us football players waiting outside the high school before a basketball game or something. We had a boom box out there and were listening to some tune-age before going in to root for whatever Scottie team was playing in the gym that night. I remember this crusty old piece of crap coming right up to me (why me… I don’t exactly know… probably because I was only 5’7” and he didn’t feel as threatened by me as he did the larger players) and he says something like, “If you boys concentrated more on the game and spent time listening to your loud music, maybe you could actually win a game!”
We were all stunned. The old man hobbled past us and into the building. We turned the music off, staring at our shoes. No one knew who that old man was. No one had ever seen him before, and I don’t remember ever seeing him after. All that I know is that old fart brought down a bunch of teenaged boys very quickly… a bunch of teenaged boys who were doing nothing more than having some innocent fun being what we were: teenagers. Some of the guys went in to watch the game inside. Most of us just went home. Even though I don’t know who that guy was, I hate him. I’m pretty sure he must be dead by now… and that warms my heart just a little bit. It boggles my mind how people get so wrapped-up in sports… or, as I like to think of them, little kid games played by people way too old to be playing little kid games. Old farts past their glory days living vicariously through the efforts of those much younger… playing a little kids’ game. That old fart probably never even played football, yet he took our having a little fun outside of the grueling practices and intense games as a personal assault on what he expected us to be doing. Like I stated earlier… knowing he’s probably dead warms my heart just a little.
So many people talk of the importance of sports… how it teaches teamwork and good sportsmanship, and blah blah blah. For those people, I’m gonna have to call a BS-time-out. In all of my years of school athletics, I didn’t learn how to be part of a team… and I surely didn’t learn good sportsmanship. When we won, it was great. It’s easy to be a good sport when you win. When we lost, I hated life. I was depressed for days after a loss, replaying in my head every mistake that I personally made that in any way could have contributed to the loss. I beat myself up, and I hated the victors for making me feel that way. And when I’d find a way to not focus on what a loser I was and would start to enjoy life again, some crusty old fart would come along and make me feel like garbage. Such is life. Losing is part of the game. In athletics, however, you may learn from your mistakes… but if you don’t have the natural athletic ability, or are not of the right physical composition to acquire that ability, you learn that losing is going to become commonplace. You learn that you, not the team, are a loser at certain things and there is nothing you can do to change that. My belief is that a young person can learn just as much about teamwork (perhaps even more) through clubs and other non-athletic activities that will benefit the young person more later in life than athletics ever will for the average student. America, however, focuses (too much, in my opinion) on athletics. After all, most people aren’t gong to rake in a multi-million dollar contract with a signing bonus by being good at debate. Most won’t even get a small scholarship to a small college to continue with sports after high school. Those same people who focused most of their attention on sports in high school would benefit from being able to enter into a lively debate… but that doesn’t matter. In our society, chase the money and fame even if they realistically don’t have Frosty’s chance in hell of obtaining it. Besides, the starting quarterback has a better chance with the ladies than the president of the chemistry club (at least in high school)… even though the head of the chemistry club will probably make more money in real life. Instead of focusing on developing skills that could actually benefit me in the real world, I played sports… poorly.
I don’t regret my years wasted playing sports. I had some good times and made some good friends. However, if I could do it over again, I probably would chose a different path for my high school years. But hell, if we could do anything over again, I’m sure most of us would change a thing or two (or a thousand). Life doesn’t work that way, at least not until I find that stupid genie’s lamp, or catch that elusive leprechaun. Until then, maybe I should start going to the local high school’s athletic events. I can look around for a bunch of student athletes and tell them how their behavior off the field is causing their lack of success on the field… whether that’s true or not. Maybe, just maybe, I can make myself feel better by making them feel like crap.