The continuing saga of my lack of athletic ability.


I wrote about my dream of being a world class athlete before and followed that part of my story to the conclusion that I should be happy with my strengths, and I am.  I talked then about my interest in tennis, which came along quite late in life and was relatively short lived.  I enjoyed it, but at one point, broke my foot. That was right before I moved to Hawaii so that I arrived in paradise with a profound limp.  I got over it.  My foot was broken in a manner that there was nothing that could be done except to stay off of it as much as possible and allow it to heal. 

It’s not that I didn’t try to develop some athletic skills earlier in my life.  When I was old enough, my father took me to sign up for little league.  I had never thrown a baseball, or caught one for that matter.  Neither had I ever held a bat.  This was where my dear father fell short.  To be fair, he worked many hours every day, and I don’t think I offered great raw material, but still, I would have been far better off to have at least held a bat at some point.

I was directed to take the bat and the pitcher would throw some pitches, which I was to hit.  This was no beginning pitcher.  Apparently, his father didn’t work at all, but spent his whole life perfecting his son’s pitching arm.  I remember watching the wind up and, sure enough, the pitch was on the way.  It looked like it was coming right at my head at an exceedingly fast speed.  Well, I was smart enough to dodge my head so that the ball wouldn’t hit me straight on. Unfortunately, this clever pitcher threw a curve ball at me, and I ducked squarely into the speeding ball, which hit me smack between my two front teeth.  I know this because my tooth was broken, but I have no memory of the actual hit, because I was unconscious.

Later, we learned that not only did I have no experience at all with a baseball roaring toward me, but a routine eye check showed that I sported a left eye that was legally blind.  The eye optometrist shared with my family that my perception would be off.  Really?  So we added glasses with a heavy left lens that tilted to that side of my face.  That, coupled with my chipped tooth completed a look only a mother could love.  I resigned myself to the fact that baseball would not be my strength,  and my mother verified this by telling my father in no uncertain terms that I was done, finished with little league. 

In the sixth grade, I was chosen as a patrol person.  I’m not sure that any girls were named to such a position, and I think we were all called patrol boys, but in the interest of current political correctness, we’ll say I was a patrol person.  I felt really honored that I was chosen to wear the badge.  There was even a kind of strap onto which the heavy official badge was pinned.  I had a special street, and when kids on the way home from school would arrive at my corner, I would hold them until there were a few lined up ready to go across.  I would go out into the crossing lane to make sure that the traffic stopped and wave the younger students across the street.  It was a great feeling of power and achievement.  I knew that they didn’t pick just anyone to be on traffic patrol.

When spring came around, we had the chance to play softball after lunch, but patrol boys couldn’t play because they were on traffic duty for the students who walked home for lunch.  I turned in my badge and quit the one thing that brought me the most honor so that I could play softball.  It had been a number of years since my little league experience, and I felt surely that I would enjoy this athletic opportunity.  The day after I turned in my badge, the teacher in charge of patrol people announced that we would all go to a Cardinals game in St. Louis.  What fun!  Sadly, I had quit the day before to pursue my current athletic dream, so I was no longer eligible to attend, so I faced one more disappointment.  It turned out that softball wasn’t for me either.

A few years later, I decided I would try out for basketball.  All I had to do was show up for practice in my gym clothes after school.   Again, I had no experience with a basketball, but I felt secure in the knowledge that I would see it coming if it was headed for my other front tooth.  Sadly, the coach was looking for stars.  He lined everybody up to go through dribbling exercises, and then we shot baskets.  I was pathetic at both.  I had never held a basketball before, let alone aimed at a 10 foot high rim to make a shot.   At the end of the first practice, the coach dismissed me.  There was no mention of developing skills or anything like that.  Apparently I wasn’t even good enough to be the towel boy or equipment manager.  This coach may have been a teacher during the day, but when after school activities kicked in, he was all coach and had no time for anyone without possibilities.  I can’t say that I really blame him.  I knew I wasn’t any good, but it felt pretty lousy to be dismissed with such nonchalance.

Later on in life, when I became a teacher, I learned that some coaches do actually care about those who are less skilled than others and, at the very least, give them a chance.  On the other hand, some coaches care only about winning games, and I guess I understand that.  I often heard conversations in the faculty lounge with coaches predicting a bad year because they “didn’t have the horses.”  Well, in spite of my lack of success as an athlete, I really enjoyed competition, and my choirs fared extremely well when it came to competitive musical events.  For me it had nothing to do with “having horses,” but rather my goal involved teaching my students the skills to win.  It was my job to make horses, and I did.

So if you don’t see me on an outdoor basketball court in a pickup game with our president, it’s really not my fault.  I was willing to try. 

A few years ago, I attended my high school class reunion.  The majority of the former star athletes who attended were not sporting six pack abs.  I’ll never be an athlete, but I have my own skills, which have served me quite well.