Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Born in a small town

One of the highly underrated aspects of growing up in a tiny rural town was that you had the opportunity to participate in a multitude of school activities. This wasn't like the big city schools where there were tryouts and cuts, and there was no such thing as making the "traveling squad." If you wanted to play a sport, you were on the team. If you were interested in joining a club, you were in. You really could do and become whatever you wanted.

I would have rivaled Rachel in "Glee" with the number of different activities I was involved in. Anyone who was any kind of student took advantage. So not only was I on the basketball team, but I also happened to be in the school choir, and, during my junior year, a five guy singing quintet. We called ourselves "The Polyesters," named after our horrible blue, school-owned, polyester sport coats, as well as the fact that we weren't The Nylons!

The Polyesters, circa 1987 - yours truly, second guy on the right

There was a week during my junior year when all the winter sports teams hosted their annual "parents' night." Always occurring late in the season, this was a special evening that served as an opportunity to honor our moms and dads. Normally a very positive occasion, this particular year featured some bizarre incidents of highly questionable sportsmanship at each event.

The wrestlers had their matches on a Thursday night. One of our wrestlers was getting heckled mercilessly by a fan from the opposing school. Our guy ended up pinning his opponent. After the ref declared him the winner, he turned to the crowd and, in front of all the parents, gave a two-handed "middle finger salute" to the heckler. The only person in the gym who didn't see this was the ref!

Friday night, the girls and boys basketball teams played a double-header. During the earlier girls game, one of our players committed a flagrant foul. And by "flagrant foul," I mean "tackled another girl in a fashion that would make a Vikings linebacker proud." She was subsequently ejected from the game. Again, I remind you this was on parents' night.

Since it was a special night, The Polyesters made an appearance and performed our a cappella rendition of the National Anthem between the two games, much to the delight of the crowd. I had to sing in my basketball warm-ups since I was playing in the game immediately following the song.

In our game, we got our demolished by a team that eventually represented our conference at the State Tournament (because we were so far behind, this was a rare occasion where I got to play quite a bit!). Not to be outdone by the middle finger incident at the wresting match or the ejection in the girls game, the varsity boys coach (a hothead who didn't really care much for me - he had a contentious relationship with the choir director and, consequently, disliked the choir people) managed to rack up three technical fouls and was tossed from the game!

The third and final "T" came when we were down by 30+ points and the coach decided to argue a three-second lane violation called on one of the third string players. On top of that, a heated argument ensued in the locker room after the game (the refs used the coaching office to store their things and shower up), and the coach and the refs had to be separated.

Once the dust settled from the melee in the office, the coach lost it. He ended up wandering around the locker room in tears, approaching each individual player, apologizing, trying to impart words of wisdom and encouragement, telling everyone how hard they fought, how valiantly they played, etc. When he got to me, searching for something to say, he uttered the following:

"Jean...that was some really nice singing out there tonight."

Even though more than two decades have passed, I still find this hilarious. There was not even a tepid "way to hang in there" after getting pushed around by their 6-foot, 8-inch center for much of the game. The coach said the best thing I did on the basketball court that night was sing.

Undoubtedly, the singing was likely one of the more positive things that happened during this week of parents' night activities. And...well, maybe he was right! I ended up receiving more accolades for music than I ever did for athletics. I didn't go on to play any sports in college, but I was in the choir. Perhaps I wasn't good at basketball; but at least I got to find out.

I loved the chance to be in the choir, various music ensembles including The Polyesters, plays and musicals, the basketball and golf teams, student government, the yearbook staff editor, a teachers' aide, as well as a student reporter/photographer for the town newspaper. I wouldn't have had those chances at a bigger school. Opportunities to discover your unique talents abounded, and I wouldn't have traded anything for these experiences (or the stories!).

The one activity that did escape me? We were such a small school that we could not fund a track or cross country team. But maybe that is why I enjoy running so much now?
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