Upon entering junior high school, I was interested in playing sports, and when football came around, I signed up. I had grand ideas of becoming a running back; after all, I was a running back in sixth grade on the flag football team. It seems, however, I was lacking a few skills running backs are supposed to have, such as speed, so I was put to the back of the line. Not content with being a bench player, I offhandedly made the comment that Dad had played center on his high school team. One of the coaches overheard me and said, “Bay, I think you’ll make a good center for us.” Dad was proud. I wasn’t all that excited, but at least I would now be a starter.
We soon found out that we weren’t very good at football. The coaches all seemed to know what they were doing, and their instructions were adequate, but we just weren’t tough enough, quick enough, and didn’t have any skill players. We ended the season at 0-4, with the first three losses being shutouts. We were trounced over and over again, and one incident toward the end of the season was indicative of how bad we were.
It was the last game of the season and somehow, mysteriously, we actually scored a touchdown. We had never experienced a touchdown before, so when it finally happened we were at first stunned in disbelief, and then we exploded in exhilaration and utter hilarity. We ran all over the field, jumping up and down, hugging one another; unable to contain ourselves. Finally, the yelling and screaming from the sidelines penetrated through the cacophony of our celebration. The coaches were trying to let us know that we had to line up for the extra point. The extra point? Oh yeah, the extra point. We hurriedly lined up and because of our inexperience, we missed it. We ended up scoring two touchdowns that day—not scoring an extra point either time—and lost in a rout; but we had our victory.
I ended up being a starter for the entire season, even though not at the position I originally desired. Being a starter entitled me to something that all boys who compete in school sports desire; the coveted “letter”. I informed Dad of my triumph and he presented me with a choice—letter sweater or letter jacket—and explained the benefits and drawbacks of both. I weighed my options and chose the jacket. The jacket was a bright, Kelly green, with off white leather sleeves and white stripes around the cuffs. I could hardly wait for the letter to arrive so Mom could sew it on and I could proudly wear it to school. Along with the letter, I also received a brass-colored football and single bar to indicate one season of credit; which were attached to the letter prior to sewing it on the jacket.
The day arrived to wear it to school and my plans were almost thwarted. Dad caught me as I was heading out the door to walk to school and said, “Son, I see you’re wearing your letter jacket to school today. The weather forecast said it’s going to be a warm one today, topping out in the upper 60’s.”
I would not be deterred and responded, “That’s okay Dad, I get a little chilly this time of year. Besides, I’m wearing a short-sleeved shirt, so the jacket will come in handy.”
Dad wasn’t one to miss an opportunity to let me learn from my mistakes, so he relented and I wore the jacket to school. In the hallway prior to class, I was aware of all the stares, or so I imagined, and the envious looks from those who didn’t have a letter jacket—the stares were actually from those who couldn’t believe I had worn such a heavy jacket on a warm day. Prior to first period, as everyone was putting sweaters and windbreakers into their lockers for the day, I decided I would keep the jacket on—all day. It was a little warm in the school, but it was always possible the weather could take a turn for the worse, and I was prepared. Most of the teachers allowed me to go about my business without making a comment—even though I was the only kid in class wearing an outer garment—and I made it all the way to seventh hour before I was exposed.
Once everyone was seated after the bell had rung, Miss Biggs approached me in front of the entire class and said, “Ronnie, isn’t it a little hot in here for that warm jacket? After all, your face is flushed and there are beads of sweat rolling down both of your hairless sideburns.” Like the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Emperor’s New Clothes—with Miss Biggs as the little child and me as the Emperor—what everyone could see, but no one dared to speak, was that I was wearing a letter jacket in a room where the temperature was seventy degrees Fahrenheit. The curtain was pulled back and the truth was revealed. I was humiliated. I had desired attention, but not this kind. All of the glory I had basked in the entire day was suddenly turned to embarrassment. The spotlight had been turned up and I had melted under the glare.
*This story is an excerpt from my recently published book, Always a Little Heathen. You can find it on Amazon and other online retailers.