A Conversation Between High School Girls (not that gender is important to the dialogue)

1. Hey girl, I applied to the university.

2. Me too, the honors program.

1. Really… Isn’t that a bunch of nerds?

2. Yeah.

1. We should room together!!!

2. Yeah, I’m requesting the honors dorm!!!

1. With the nerds? Why would you do that?

2. So I can get my homework done.

1. Uh, no, eff that.

Choice

NFL,
Over saturated.
High school,
Under appreciated.
Skipped the hype,
Watched the kids instead.

Wet and Dry Biology

Wet and Dry Biology was the best of times and it was the worst of times. Wet Biology was a perfect mix of college, games, and humor for me. In the class, we studied the ecosystems in ponds, streams, and rivers. We caught critters and learned to identify them. We conducted mini-studies and learned how to use the library at William and Mary. In Dry-Biology we studied plants and their winter buds. We went to Jamestown and York River State park to count deer scat. It wasn’t my thing.

One project for Dry-Biology involved studying animal tracks. Since my father was a police officer I figured he would have the stuff to make a mold of any tracks that we could find around my house. Finding the tracks would be easy because I lived on Carter’s Grove Plantation and there was nothing but woods around our house. The problem was waiting for a time when my father and I could coordinate our schedules. He worked rotating shifts and I was always at basketball practice or games. Finally, we found a night that both of us would be home. We headed out into the dark in search of any kind of tracks.

There was a service road in front of our house that led down a hill towards the James River. Before heading into the woods, the road wrapped around a corn field. There were no lights to help guide us and we walked along the road with a flashlight like climbers trying to summit Everest. A cold wind blew off the river and the tall pines creaked and leaned against each setting a very Vincent Price mood.

Sometimes I got scared living so far off the main road. In a field across from our house, stakes marked the location of settlers that were killed during an attempt by local Native Americans to reclaim their land. When I was home alone at night I often wondered if the spirits ever rose from their shallow graves to visit their old lands. At the time of our walk, I was also reading Truman Capote’s, “In Cold Blood.” The combination of the cold, the wind, the stakes, and the images of someone driving to our far removed house started to scare me. All I wanted was to find some tracks, pour the mold, and get back home.

We found some raccoon tracks and did just that. I wasn’t interested in waiting for the stuff to dry, but my father made sure we waited long enough for the mold to set. I scooped up the mold and headed back up the hill with a determined sense of purpose. I wanted no part of wandering spirits or vagabond murderers. Fortunately, neither appeared.

Unfortunately, deer flies were waiting out on Jamestown Island for our spring deer population scat study.

The Night a Basketball Team Nearly Died

As I am writing this, Radio Paradise is playing the theme song from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Why I’m thinking about the craziest basketball practice ever, I don’t know, but I am. It’s too bad that as I write, I think the haters might still be circling the gym at LHS, but I have to get this down. Maybe they have gone away, although, there were plenty of carcasses to feed them back in 1982.

As I remember it, our coach called a practice for Thanksgiving night. That’s right, THANKSGIVING NIGHT!!! We all expected a light practice after a heavy meal, but those thoughts were soon pushed right up next to that extra helping of sweet potatoes I had when the monkey drills began. Nobody said a word because each of us feared that if we opened our mouths that dinner that we were so mindful of might make an appearance.

Finally, we got around to running our offense and working on full-court presses and with the hour getting late, it looked as if it would be time to go. Not so.

“On the line.”

We all thought, “Sprints, really? Coach, it’s Thanksgiving, please have mercy.”

“4 in 24.”

No mercy was to be had. The rule was that each of us had to run a sprint (suicide) in 24-seconds. If we all made it, that counted as one. We ran until we got to four. We ran. We ran some more. We ran a lot more. All our coach said was, “On the line.” He never told us the times. Soon there was a revolt against those who were having a tough time making it in time. The future minister very nearly invoked a spiritual wrath on the umpire’s son that teetered on fire and brimstone. Somehow it ended with us making it to four and no one throwing up.

That practice was bad, ugly, and such a good memory. A year ago I got to laugh it up with some of my old teammates. We all remembered that night the same way, like a bunch of middle aged men who had suffered a little and come through okay.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Note: Since I wrote this post, I’ve started practicing with my team. We are young and not big, but I think this will be a fun bunch to work with. Thanksgiving will be a night off and I will stuff all the food in that I can. I’m going to enjoy every bite without that voice in my head going, “On the line.”

Long Time No Hear (LHS Hoops 10/10)

“Um, hello, is this Chris Hancock?”
Said the voice,
Soft as velvet and raspy from living well.

“Yo, Heard, what’s up?”

Thirty years were gone, but I was in tenth grade again,
My old, yes, still older, mentor,
Was putting in a call.

We laughed about early practices
And getting stuck in one on one.
We laughed harder about Maurice who was
The police, prosecution, judge, and jury
In pre-practice study hall court.

Then it got sappy,
Because that year was so important to us,
Because Heard had let me in
Making sure I never felt alone
Or out of place with my difference
From the rest of my brothers,
Who, treated me better than I’ve ever been treated.
They made me earn their respect.

They allowed me to appreciate everyone.

They were all more important than those who weren’t there can understand.
We endured sprints.
We survived a Thanksgiving practice.
We spoke about being there in moments of tribulation.
We spoke of hanging at each other’s homes and
Our families accepting us because we made it clear
We were friends and that black-white bullshit wouldn’t be tolerated.

“You know, you were like the only white kid on the team,” said Heard.

That was kind of true,
Although that first year there were three of us.
Two quit, playing time disputes I think,
But whatever, I was a skinny kid with brown hair then,
Sitting at the end of the bench
Hoping to get a couple of minutes of court time in practice
And maybe even a few seconds in a game.

“It was cool, though, Heard. I loved being on that team.”

I don’t know what the color of ONE is.
I suppose it’s somewhere between blue and gold
Because black and white came together
Under the uniform of Lafayette High School’s basketball team that year.
We won some, we lost some,
Not getting as far as any of us thought we should have,
But for me, the life lessons were more important than any win,
Any Monkey drill, or all the splinters I picked from my butt that year.

Thanks, Heard.
Thanks, Chris.
Thanks, 22. (Say that loud and enunciate the two’s with gusto and respect!)
Two years would follow,
The lessons being the same
The shared experiences being the same

Man, I miss that…

Really, everyone, thank you.

Moving On-Staying There (LHS Hoops 8/10)

The end of my sophomore season was tough.
Being on the team was a special experience
And I felt like we were a team,
But with the end came the distance
And we moved on.

My man, Heard, was off to college
And I’d miss him because of the way
He looked out for me
And because he didn’t make fun
Of me listening to Toto on the bus.

The next year would be just as great
Although real life would creep into our team
When Troy started to get sick.
We would miss his smile
And the way he brought us together with that easy way.

Senior year was hard
Playing and not
Wrestling with loyalty and frustration
And giving in to the end
When the season was over.

I was done playing basketball,
Regulated to intramural and pick up games
Where I did okay until
I tried to keep up with Eddie Jordan
Right after his NBA career was over.

All the guys went their ways
And somehow we never crossed paths
In the Colonial Capitol
Until just a year ago
At a football game of all places.

Jip was wondering where my girth had come from
Mostly the dinner table, truth be told,
Chris was talking like he never stopped and
Our last conversation was nearly thirty years ago.
My old carpool partner, Randy, was quiet as ever.

I was right back on the team
Ready to do as much of a monkey drill
As my belly could handle.
I wanted to go back to the days
The practices, the bus rides, the study halls…

What I Learned (LHS Hoops 7/10)

Many a coach
Waxes on the benefits
Of common goals and the life lessons
Learned when people compete
On a team.

Many a poet
Writes eloquently of the rewards gained
When a man tests his mettle
In the struggle of physical effort
And competition against others.

I like to think I’m both
Coaching once again
And hitting these keys in the Han-ee style of free verse,
Looking back, both the coach and poet
Have it right.

My time playing high school sports
Oozed plenty of sweat,
But more importantly squeezed from me
All environmental influence of the times
About who people are.

My teammates were friends
People to go to battle with,
People to break bread with,
People, friends,
Teammates.

I learned that opportunity comes in uncertain ways
But gift horse or not, opportunities should be taken
Because the world is a tough place
And it matters little who you are
Only that you seize the opportunities when they are presented.

I learned how fickle experience can be
One moment making life seem easy and fun
The next swatting at an ego with Tyson like efficiency.
The essence of competing is struggle
And learning to manage the experience is how we get better.

Coaches will rant, poets will weave stanzas of ahhh
And both know why sports participation is important
Learning to struggle brings us together
Creating bonds that cannot be understood
In isolated phone and tablet bound postures.

I owe a great deal to my coaches
Who set the laws that I learned to follow.
I owe a great deal to my teammates
Who showed me no favor, but allowed me to be part of the gang.

So are my lessons from basketball at LHS…

The Kangaroo Court

“What about you, do you want to play on the varsity team?”

“I did, but I guess not now.”

“Why do you say that?”

“That’s why we’re here, right? You’re cutting me.”

“No, I want you to play on the team.”

“Oops, I do.”

With that, I was on the varsity basketball team. When Coach Farrior called me over to the middle of the gym, I was sure I would be cut. Little did I know how much I would learn and how fun my basketball experience would be. There were two sophomores on the team that year. Tim Marsh was an athletic point guard with quickness that I would never know. He was also confident enough to sing Jack and Diane before practice in a way that would have made Marvin Gaye and John Cougar (Cougar-Mellencamp, Mellencamp) fall over laughing. I was a spot up shooter and Danny Ainge type of annoyance on the court. Without a fearlessness to playing defense, I would never have been able to play basketball. Whatever the reason, Coach Farrior kept me on the team.

There were many rules to being on the team. Most had to do with scheduling and since there was only one gym at Lafayette practice times were regimented. There were two practice blocks. One week the boys went first and the girls went second. That would switch the next week. During the non-practice block we were supposed to go into a classroom and have a study hall.

Supposed to…

Coach Farrior would set the tone at the start of the season and stay in the room. I can only imagine how bored he must have been. I sat back in the corner trying to balance open eyed naps with getting some homework done. I assumed the rest of the team was doing the same. One day, Coach left the room and that was it. Court was in session.

Mondays were the best because my older teammates were out committing “crimes of gossip” that needed to be brought up and judged by a testosterone fueled jury of adolescent males. As I remember it, Maurice would bring the court to session. He would announce the charges, most often those would be levied against someone who had dared to close the door to a room at a party. Whenever there was a strong denial or weak defense, JIP would bring his Shaft like intensity and call “BS” to the whole thing. Finally, there would be a confession and the sentence was a public humiliation of laughter.

Again, as I remember it, one person took most of the brunt of this kangaroo court. I was stealthy, so none of my stuff got prosecuted and there was plenty enough to strap me to the laughing chair for many practices. When the season was over, I tried to get the same thing going with the baseball team, but we just weren’t funny enough to make it happen. Too thin skinned, I guess. No matter, the basketball court was something I still laugh about today.

On Quitting (LHS Hoops 5/10)

Being judgmental is easy.
Betrayal seems so simple.

We three stood for nothing of social importance
Only similar in the pale complexion of our skin.

Tokens or talent, I’ll never know
But we we’re part of a team wearing that blue and gold.

First, the shooter walked away
As I remember it, indecision being his game’s fault.

Then, the bruiser took leave
As I remember it, he got yelled at.

I never thought of their example
Being all that important. They walked.

If they didn’t want to be there,
They shouldn’t have been there.

Toughness does not come with color
Toughness comes with attitude.

So does a lack of…

Around 180 Days: Down the Hall (#9)

Mr. Mehlman had been teaching for forty years. He survived a year of Vietnam and after returning with a new perspective on what was important, he got a teaching certificate and hunkered down in a classroom. The jungle war had toughened Mehlman to the point where he was assigned the roughest students in school. Long before there were certificates for special education, Mr. Mehlman was helping students with behavior issues that were often camouflage for learning difficulties.

Mehlman’s strategy was simple, teach them what they would need to survive and always be brutally honest. Because his classroom was in a back hallway and far from the daily foot traffic of administrators, few knew what was going on in Mehlman’s class. When they found out, they likened what they heard to war. Profanity was a part of the class. Some would consider their language Trumpian, but the comfort with which everyone spoke to each other was more honest than most classes. Students sat wherever they wanted including the floor or on top of desks. Mr. Mehlman only had one rule. Everyone had to get 100% on the tests. Until that happened, everyone in the class kept practicing the skills until the goal was reached.

“Something in here stinks,” said Mr. Mehlman. “Who smells?”

Everyone looked down. Nobody wanted Mr. Mehlman to make eye contact out of fear that he would start ragging on them. For the first time in many weeks the class was quiet. They were like soldiers hiding in the bush waiting for the enemy to go by. Mehlman walked a slow march around the room taking deep breaths to locate the source of the odor.

“Louis, is that you?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Mehlman.”

“I think it is.” Mehlman took a deep breath. “Yes… Louis, are those the same clothes that you wore yesterday?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Louis, you can’t wear the same clothes everyday. You have to change them because you will either make everyone uncomfortable with the smell or have stuff growing on you. You’ve got to wear different clothes tomorrow. All of your clothes, including your socks. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

The thing about Mehlman’s class was that the students loved him. Outsiders thought his methods crude and they wondered what the kids were learning. The academics were basic. He taught them math in the context of money and measurement. His rationale for keeping things so narrow was that most people only really need to know the basic math functions and measuring was an important skill for people in many blue collar jobs. The college prep brigade of teachers never understood this. However, they also didn’t agree with his approach to teaching reading. He let the students read whatever they wanted. If a student wanted Beowulf, that’s what she read. If she preferred to read a newspaper or Twitter, he let them do that. In either case, the students were required to explain what was important in their reading and how it related to something that was going on in current events.

He made learning personal and the students left school with skills that they could use right away. Most of his students went straight to the working world and never continued onto college. They were happy with that. Only the college prep brigade and the narrow minded vision setters disagreed with what Mr. Mehlman had been doing for the last forty years. He was the perfect model for PIOUS and the administration was about to find out why.

Allen decided he would check in on Mr. Mehlman to see if there was something he could do to get rid of him. Allen did not like the Mr. Mehlman. The feeling was mutual. Since Allen stood for nothing, Mehlman wrote him off as a no factor.

“Mr. Mehlman, can I go to the bathroom to finish my reading?” asked Louis.

“A magazine, in the bathroom? You know that’s why they call it the library?”

“Really?”

“No, hurry up.”

Louis grabbed his magazine and exited the door just as Allen walked in. Normally, Allen would have told the teacher he was coming, but he was hoping to ambush Mr. Mehlman. After about ten minutes he realized that Louis had not returned and since there was nothing wrong with the lesson, Allen went on a scouting mission to find the AWOL student. He walked into the bathroom and found Louis with his shoes off and his socks in the sink.

“What are you doing, Louis?”

“I’m washing my socks.”

“Why?”

“Because I wore them for two days and they smelled. Mr. Mehlman said I should wash them, but I forgot and just remembered. I’m doing it now so I don’t disappoint him.”

There are times when what we hear is not what we think. Allen thought he heard Louis say that he didn’t want to disappoint Mr. Mehlman. His washing socks in the bathroom was strange, but not wanting to disappoint Mehlman was something Allen could not comprehend. His brain had been outflanked by an enemy he was not prepared for; good things were happening in Mehlman’s room.

“How will you dry them?”

“I don’t know. It’s hot in Mehl’s room, maybe he’ll let me put them in front of the fan.”

“Go back to class.”

Louis put on his shoes and grabbed his socks. Allen followed a few steps behind. He was going to stand outside of the door and listen to how Mehlman handled the situation. Louis walked into the room.

“Where have you been?”

“Mr. Mehlman, I forgot to wash my socks, so that’s what I was doing. I didn’t want to stink up the room again. I was squeezing them out when Dr. Marina came in and told me to come back to class.”

“That kind of squeezing is also called wringing. Put your socks in front of the fan, get a computer, and see what you can learn about wringing water out of laundry. Can Dr. Marina confirm your story?”

“Yeah, he’s out side the door.”

“Oh. Come on in Dr. Marina.”

Allen looked around the corner. He was embarrassed and shocked at the same time. He was embarrassed to be called into the room like a traitor being brought to trial. He was shocked at how well Mehlman had made dirty socks into a mini vocabulary lesson.

“It’s just as he said. Nice job, Mehlman.”

For Allen, PIOUS began to take a different meaning.