I’ve previously written about the indignities that the hormone driven, zit faced, pre and post-pubescent junior high teenager faces; devoting an entire chapter to it in my second book Always a Little Heathen (http://tinyurl.com/mxb7p54). There were similar indignities faced upon entering high school, such as being tossed head first down a flight of stairs for entrenching upon sacred territory on the second floor; reserved exclusively for juniors and seniors. There were others. For this post, I will stick to football.
Back in the junior high, as ninth graders, we were the biggest and normally the toughest kids in the school. However, upon entering high school, the former big shot suddenly becomes not the “big man” on campus, but instead the “pipsqueak” on campus. Having played football in ninth grade, an actual starter at that, I was asked if I was going to try out for the sophomore team. My answer was, “Do I want to play football? Sure, why not?” Looking back, it would have been better if I had thought through the potential hazards, before blurting out my immediate, confident (some would say cocky) response. It wouldn’t take long.
Although we were never hazed during those tender years, we did endure much pain; some physical, but most of the pain was psychological and emotional in nature. But as my good friend Soap, from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels once said, “Yeah, little bit of pain never hurt anybody.” We knew the pain was coming, but with all of our best efforts, we could not avoid all of it. The first indignity came on the first day of practice; before we even arrived on the practice field.
Our high school was located near the center of town, surrounded by buildings, churches, and houses. Not a field to be seen. Across town, about a mile and a half from the high school, were the junior high school and the varsity football field, with adjoining practice fields. It wasn’t a long journey, and the upperclassmen relished the opportunity to rev up their hot rods and race the short distance through neighborhoods and down empty streets, in the quiet, mid-afternoon. The set up was great for juniors and seniors, but what about the sophomores? We didn’t have driver’s licenses. How would we get there? Here’s where the indignities come in. At the beginning of seventh hour, it became a foot race to see who would make it into one of the available vehicles parked alongside the school building. There were plenty of seniors who didn’t care who was left behind, they just took off. Other cars would fill up, with some cars packed to the ceiling with as many as eight kids, and the lone straggler, often times me, would be told to go find another car. The mad scramble down the quiet streets from the school to the practice field was reminiscent of this clip from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. http://movieclips.com/A3yt9-its-a-mad-mad-mad-mad-world-movie-chasing-captain-culpepper/ Notice, Spencer Tracy, the senior, is in a car by himself. You may also notice in the two yellow cabs, a few sophomores in the back seat. Once we finally made it to the practice field, the opportunities for humiliation were seemingly endless.
Back in these simpler times, the authorities, coaches in this case, seemed to be in on the joke when it came time for the seniors to abuse the sophomores. If they weren’t, it sure appeared like they were. They willingly turned a blind eye to what they surely knew was occurring down on the practice field, while they fiddled around in the locker room, only to arrive just after all the shenanigans had ended. Or in some cases, they would leave the field early, with the sophomores safely in the hands of the upperclassmen. Hey, you coaches. Where do you think you’re going? Hey, don’t leave us down here with the seniors. You’ll be an accessory to whatever they do. How can you live with yourselves?
Depantsing, an indignity that was carried over from the junior high years, occasionally reared its ugly head, but due to our experiences in junior high, we were always on the lookout for it. The best defense against depantsing was to never be found alone on the field, too far away from the locker room and safety to make it in a sprint. No, we learned to travel in packs. There was safety in numbers, and we stuck together. Fear was one thing we all had in common. Because of this on guard attitude, depantsing was reduced by seventy-five percent from junior to senior high.
Another activity that the seniors loved to engage in was, “throw the football at the helpless sophomore.” This could only happen when the coaches had left the field. The seniors would grab two or three unsuspecting sophomores and say, “Hey, why don’t you boys go collect all the footballs and tees so we can get back to the locker room and get dressed?” Little did we know, but we were inadvertently collecting the enemies’ ammunition. Once the footballs were collected, we were directed to stand in the end zone and with the seniors lined up a few yards away, it was our job to “catch” the errant footballs flying our direction. And catch them we did; some in the crotch, some in the face mask and off the top of the helmet; the remainder with other body parts. It was real fun.
Once we had endured the “catch the football” game, we finally arrived in the locker room. It was a treat to be there. At age fourteen I did notice a difference in body size and other physical attributes between the eighteen year old seniors and the “Mexican hairless” sophomores, of which I was one. I also noticed that there was much diversity in the locker room, long before diversity became a goal of many institutions, specifically in the music choices. There were Take Me Home Country Roads for the white, farm boys, and Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) for the black, city boys. Me, I liked it all and especially when it was played loud. The coaches would make sure to lock themselves in an office, away from the music, and this allowed the seniors time for their next venture.
When a player was hurt, specifically with injuries involving the muscles, the locker room was equipped with a whirlpool tub. It seemed that the only players enjoying the steaming comfort of the whirlpool were seniors, but then again, the sophomores didn’t have much in the way of muscles, nor did we play enough to warrant such special treatment. The whirlpool was also used for other things by the seniors in addition to therapy. It seems that when the coaches were squirreled away in the office, working on their special team’s plays, the seniors were lined up around the whirlpool, taking turns urinating into the warm water contained within. Of course, once the water had turned an odd yellow color, the seniors made sure that their muscles felt fine and that the whirlpool was now the exclusive property of the sophomores.
The greatest, if not most painful indignity, involved a substance (pictured above) called Cramergesic Ointment. The ointment was the color of brown mustard and was used to alleviate muscle aches, in the event the whirlpool was unavailable as a result of “urine contamination”. Much like Icy Hot or Ben Gay, but much more potent and with the potential to set your pants on fire, Cramergesic packed a punch, and just a little dab would go a long way. What the seniors thought would be funny, ha, ha, ha, was to take a large handful and apply it to the inside of a sophomore’s jockstrap. The pain was excruciating and immediate, and affected more than the obvious body parts. Seeing a sophomore walk bow legged out to their parent’s car after practice was not an unusual occurrence. The lingering, burning sensation might last for days. But it was fun.
I’m not sure if I personally suffered all the above mentioned abuses, but based on my detailed descriptions, I probably did. Oh, and did I mention the ever-present towel popping, aimed at the most exposed and vulnerable parts of the anatomy upon exiting the showers? Pop! Gotcha! I now had an answer to my earlier question about playing football. “Why not?” Are you kidding?