Chandler, Arizona, United States

There's an old saying. If you don't want someone to join a crowd, you ask them, "If everyone were jumping off of a cliff, would you?" Well, I have. So my answer would be "Yes". True story.
Profile continued . . .

The Closest I Ever Came to Enjoying Sports

Monday, July 30, 2012

this entry brought to you by samorost soundtrack, "nanorobot tune"

The closest I ever came to enjoying sports was in the sixth grade.

I'm sure your elementary school worked the same way, but in case it didn't, our school was set up so that an entire grade would all go to PE at the same time. It wasn't like a class, where you might end up with a kid you hated one year, and by an astonishing stroke of luck, end up with a different teacher than him the next year. If you were in the same school at all, you saw everyone during P.E. Kids I never shared class with because we scored differently on standardized tests, and therefore would usually have no interaction with, I saw during P.E. We all grew up together in PE, for better or for worse.

Every three weeks or so our teacher ran us through a different sport, and today my coach announced that we would be playing field hockey. "This time, however, it's going to be different," my coach beamed.

He then picked out the kids who had, up to this point, been perennially the last kids picked for every sport, myself included, to be the team captains. It was up to us to pick the teams, and pick what positions our teammates played. "And I don't want to hear any complaining," he said. "If any of you doesn't do exactly what your team captain says, I'm going to give you an F this six weeks."

Beyond the humiliation of being picked last, the ordinary system of the six biggest jocks in school picking the teams did not work. They would immediately pick their best friends, which inevitably meant, every single sport we played, the same two teams dominated, because the jocks were naturally best friends with other jocks. And, among those jocks, their closest jock friends were also in their class, so you would end up with the same first three people picked every time for each team, leaving the rest of us to be picked over because they had to; if the jocks had it their way they'd pick their buddies and be done with it, leaving the rest of us to sit around playing hopscotch, which, even as a boy and in the sixth grade (IE, way too old to be playing hopscotch), I would've much rather have been doing.You've seen what it's like being picked last. It sucks. But it's also not a system that's good for sports.

There we were, the six biggest losers, two girls and four boys, and I could tell that each of us was thinking essentially the same thing. There was no way we were going to squander this responsibility. We were going to take this seriously, just to show the entire class that we could. All of us scrutinized the remaining kids like we were playing chess. We wanted to pick absolutely the perfect teams, we wanted the perfect balance. And because none of the jocks were anything close to being our friend, none of us had a preference for any of them beyond what they could do on the field. If two friends didn't get to play together, so be it. And, well, fuck 'em anyway.

Generally speaking during these team picking routines and the biggest jocks picked their biggest jock friends, there was always lots of high fives and clapping when friends were called up. It was interesting, even on the off occasion when friends were called to he same team, there was no high fiving. The jocks all had a look of begrudging politeness. None of them were outright complaining, but they were all giving one another glances as if to say "This is bullshit, right?"

Then a funny thing happened. My team won that day. And again the next day. And again the next day. This had never happened to me before. Firstly, if I was ever on a sport, I would generally pick the position that required the least of me. The prior year on hockey a friend of mine and I would immediately high-stick and get kicked out of the game because fuck that game. But beyond that, I was never even picked by one of the two teams that always dominated every sport, so I never had any idea what it was like to, you know, win. Not that I cared.

But more than just winning, even though I was abjectly bad at the sport, I was directly responsible for this win. This grouping was all me. I chose the goalie (which was sometimes me, if I felt like actually participating, which I did). I chose who would go up and do the-- uh, what do you call it. The thing after a goal where two guys go head to head and try and get the puck. I chose who did that. All of the strategy, it was all me.

Beyond that, all of us picked well. Instead of the usual case of two teams completely dominating, as the weeks went by teams were the closest on the ladder than they'd ever been. The top team, my team, was only separated by the bottom team by something like four or five wins, instead of the usual nine or ten. I would sometimes play the field if I was feeling like running back and forth like a maniac, but if I was playing a team that I was afraid was particularly going to give us trouble, or if one of my star players was absent, I would be the goalie. Not because the goalie does the least, but because being the goalie matters. It was the one place I felt like I could actually make a difference. I wanted to win. I would feel this surge of electricity shoot through me when I would stop a particularly crazy shot by the edge of my teeth and hear my team whoop with pride because I managed to pull through. Getting slaps on the back. Friendly punches on the shoulder instead of sarcastically friendly ones that hurt a little too much. The guys on my team went from being begrudgingly polite to genuinely enthusiastic. Before games they'd come up me and say "How much ass are we going to kick today, Chris?"

I couldn't say we dominated, because we lost our fair share, but there was never a point where we didn't have the most wins. And on the last day of hockey, during the championship, us versus the number two team, I remember looking across the field and seeing all these kids-- maybe a hundred of us, maybe a little more-- and thinking none of those other games matter. Those other kids are just playing. This right here, this is the real game. This is the one.

I remember playing harder than I'd ever played before.

...And we lost. Handily, too. I don't know how it happened. We even started to make a bunch of goals right at the end, but when it came down to it, we were four points behind.

But it didn't matter. I'd done it. I'd picked the best team I could possibly pick, I didn't choose people because I liked them, in fact, I distinctly hated several people on my team, I picked them because I knew they could do it, and they did. Got us all the way to the championship. And even if we lost the championship, we had more wins at the end than any other team.

I remember over that weekend I was planning in my head what my next team would be. Would we be playing basketball? We hadn't played basketball yet. Or perhaps baseball-- who would be a good pitcher? Would I make a better third baseman or a second? I needed to put myself in a place where I wouldn't be absolutely needed, but also in a place where I could stay in the action. Was I ready for a base?

That Monday coach picked the biggest jocks to pick the teams, and again as the jocks picked their friends they high fived and cheered, and I was the last to be picked again. Which felt even more humiliating than it had previously. I would have thought that maybe, just maybe, I had built up some cred, at least with the guys who were on my team. I took them to the championship. And while they were a lot friendlier to me for a while, it didn't matter. It was the Old Boys club again, and the Old Boys rules.

I can't say that I was devastated. Things had returned back to their natural order, and it's not like I was particularly uncomfortable with it. I still was never going to be great at sports, and, truth be told, there was a small part of me that missed goofing off with my friend for an hour and not doing shit-- we couldn't during the previous three weeks because we weren't on the same team, we were busy being our own team captains. It's not like I was hurt.

But it felt utterly deflating. I felt like a balloon whose air was all let out at once. I thought that my coach was a genius, that he bucked the system and said, let's see what the brainiacs would do if they could have it their way, and it worked. Games were closer than they had ever been. All the teams performed better than they ever had. This was P.E. so it's not as if I had a close relationship with my coach, and when I asked him why in the world he didn't want us to be team captains anymore, he said "Well, I wanted you guys to have your fun. And you guys did. But now it's time for them to have their fun again. It's okay. You don't like PE anyway. Right?"

I didn't know how to argue with him, because he was essentially right. Even in a best case scenario, I could never see myself caring about this stuff more than, say, comic books or drawing. But I was also let down that he didn't know how much fun I was having, which seemed obvious to me. My coach was essentially saying "I let the inmates run the asylum, now it is time to return to the way things are supposed to be." Like the great experiment was a huge success, but it was after all just a wacky experiment, and we can't really let things just continue like that, right? A kid can't really be mayor of a whole city past that one day, you know that, right?

It was disturbing watching the jocks get right back into their old behavior, and watching the same two teams dominate the way they always had. And although I honestly think I would have never become much of a sports enthusiast, being a team captain that molded my own team and took them to the championship got me interested in PE in a way that absolutely never had before, and never did since.

And as much as I still could not give a shit about sports to this day, it kind of saddens me that this didn't continue, and that this wasn't somehow a brand new way to teach phys. ed that spread from school to school, district to district. Let the nerds pick the teams. The sportos will do what they always do, kick ass at sports regardless of who they're playing with, and the nerds will actually give a shit because they're invested.

with love from CRS @ 8:57 AM 


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