50 shades of gray Allen, Days 14-15
Junior High. That time in life when the acne you’ve managed to ignore for the previous several years becomes the defining aspect of your entire being.
I’ve now reached age 13 in my quest to recount the past 50 years of my life as I head toward my birthday later this month. And these next six years were clearly the most formative of my life.
After completing sixth grade and leaving the likes of Mrs. Oretga, Mrs. Urseth and Mr. Oshel behind, I entered into a realm where classes changed every hour and the struggle to figure who we were was cloaked in everything we did.
Welcome to James Monroe Junior High School.
I was a little overwhelmed that seventh grade year. As someone who was very into sports, I didn’t play anything for the school that first year. In all honesty, I just didn’t think I had anything to offer. I played baseball when the spring rolled around, and at the time, that was all that mattered.
It was during that first year that I met James King. James lived in the outer reaches of Inyokern and spent something like 20-30 minutes one way on the bus to school each day. And while his athletic career never existed because of that commute, he was an extremely talented brainiac. When we got to eighth grade, Mr. Maxwell had a contest to see who could figure out how to get all of the numbers 1-100 using only four fours in a variety of equations. James won that contest and then took it to the extreme, figuring out how to make every number up to like 100,000 or something. No contest. No prize. Just did it because he could.
Yeah, made my head hurt too.
Becoming James’ friend was really the first time I realized that I possessed the strange ability to converse with both geeks and jocks. Kind of like an interpreter, but for two groups that rarely take to each other or have need to do so. Its proven to be a semi-useful skill as the years have gone by. Too bad Syrians and Jews aren’t jocks and geeks.
When baseball season rolled around it was a grand season, capped by my making the 3-year-old All-Star team. We only had on e tournament to play in Tehachapi, but oh what a weekend that turned out to be.
When we got to the field for our first game, my dad noticed that the umpired were climbing out of this unusual van. As my parents explained later, the umpires were convicts from Tehachapi Prison, a facility for mostly drug dealers and users and one my brother had the unfortunate experience of spending extended amounts of time in . But they were on work release and the tourney directors assured us they would be fine, and they were far better than promised.
The plate umpire was a long, lanky site of a man named Slim Johnson. For him to have to squat down so that he could accurately call balls and strikes seemed like more punishment than anyone in that facility deserved, especially for multiple games. But Slim was so enthusiastic about his job that he made every call seem like a cheer. And when someone was called out on strikes to end a frame, he exploded from behind the plate in his own mini one-man show. He was awesome!
When we got to the final game, the opposition was especially rowdy. With Slim and his partner unfortunately on their way back to the prison, the games officials were less than stellar. The calls seemed pretty one-sided and when the other team got rude, they did nothing.
And that’s when things went a little south.
One of our top pitchers that year was Doug Sullivan. Doug was a strapping left-hander that threw hard, and I mean hard. But he also a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and somehow the other team sensed that. At one point while on the mound, the opposition were really riding Doug and it finally got to him. When the other team’s coach made some derogatory comment with a man on first, Doug made a perfect pick-off throw – right at the coach’s face! Fortunately said coach was behind the dugout storm fencing.
When the game ended, Doug had reached his boiling point. I saw him moving toward the exit to our dugout at full steam and I got in his way to try and stop him. He pushed hard enough to get us both onto the field when I noticed Doug’s mom at the fence, grasping it frantically.
“Don’t let him go, Tim!” she implored. “Do not let him go!”
At that point I had lowered my head into Doug’s chest, trying to hold him back like some linemen hit a tackling dummy. I wrapped my arms around him and kept him from moving long enough for a coach and some other guys to help me out. It wasn’t until later that my mom informed me that while I was holding Doug in place, he had a baseball in each hand and was evidently heading to the first-base dugout to exact a little ‘Walking Tall’ justice on the opposition.
So my first foray into school athletics began. It all started with soccer and my having to convince Fred Parker and Jack Clark that I should be our team’s goalie. They really thought I should be a full back and had chosen Jeff Nelson to be in the net. He didn’t want to be there and so one day I convinced him to not show up for a game. He bailed, I got into goal and never left.
And with the whiz kid Frank Ortiz acting as a one-man offensive machine, we managed to work our way to the top of the standings before losing to Murray in the finals.
When basketball season rolled around I made Clark’s Heavyweight Basketball Team. When you look at the team picture for that year, I’m the tallest guy in the program. And that included Scott Fulton. I was a starter and given the honor of performing the tip-off for each half of every game. I won e very single tip except against Antonio Dobbins of, guess who … Murray.
In the spring we had track and field, and due to my birthday falling in a weird place I was placed in the 12-13 age bracket instead of the 14-15 one. That meant that my 6-1, 150-pound frame was going up against kids half my size. I ran the 4×100 relay a few times to help out the team, but specialty was the shot put and discus. I set school records in both of those events that may still stand to this day. I mean, throwing a 10-pound shot was like tossing a softball.
I attended my first dance and never left the bingo table. How could I have known then I’d be a Southern Baptist five years later?
And now I must come clean on something, and I will be sending Keith Haywood a message regarding this after I post this. I won a wrestling tournament at Monroe for the heaviest weigh division when Keith was unable to find shoes to wear on the mat. He asked another student if he could borrow his shoes for the match, but I begged the guy not to give them to him because I was afraid Keith would crush me.
It was small. It was petty. And Keith deserved better, a lot better. Sorry Keith.
Parker, Clark and Don Crouse. All three of these men had a major influence on me, but maybe none more so than Clark. He taught me that math could be fun and that organization and creativity were keys to being successful. When he and Parker gave me the Coach’s Award at the end of the school year, it laid a foundation for the work ethic I’ve had the rest of my life. The words of the plaque stated that it was “Given for outstanding Desire, Attitude and Hustle.”
Next time I head into high school. Now it starts to get really groovy.