It was like I had never been in a classroom before. They looked at me like I was some kind of freak speaking a language they had never heard. In less than two weeks, either I had forgotten how to teach or they had no clue what I had taught them over the last four months. This was no dream. This was first period after the holiday recess. I scrambled for the right things to say recognizing that time has a way of bringing things back. Somewhere in a story about my high school teacher, they came back to life.
Full of opinion,
Schoolwork absolutely sucks,
Too bad, get it done.
1. Hey girl, I applied to the university.
2. Me too, the honors program.
1. Really… Isn’t that a bunch of nerds?
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.
Skipped the hype,
Watched the kids instead.
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.
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.”
“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, 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.
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…
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,
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…