My faithful reader Budd is eager for my revisits of my adolescence, since no doubt since it over-lapped with his. So here’s the next one. I never submitted this for publication, which suggests I had my doubts about it, but since a majority of my readers appear to be robots…
The Playing Fields of Wynnewood
Friends Central, which I attended from 4th through 12th grade (1951-60), believed in mens sana in corpore sano. So we had compulsory sports, fall, summer, spring.
This was fine with me. Sports were fun; proficiency was valued by the culture; and, among my classmates, seemed more important than, say, mastery of Latin. I wanted to be seen as a Regular Guy and accepted by the Right Crowd, and this seemed to require demonstrating athletic skill, of which, fortunately, I was not devoid. (Once, my fifth grade teacher asked us to list what qualities were most important in our choice of friends and, in recognition of the world I saw around me, I included “good in sports.” She either couldn’t comprehend the truth of this insight or censored it, for when translated onto her master list, it had become “good sport.”)
Baseball had initially been my favorite. But my career ended in 10th grade, when, having driven in the tying and winning runs of our opening game, our coach benched me for our second, as far as I could tell, only because Rickie Dickers had just come out for the team, and his father gave money to the school – while mine only muttered darkly in private about its cost, my underachievement, and what he was getting for his dollars. My principled response to the coach’s personnel decision – quitting – was probably not admired by the Athletic Department, but I never played baseball again.
Basketball I rejected for sounder reasons. I couldn’t shoot; I couldn’t dribble; I felt totally humiliated by the process. Every school, it seemed, had its tall, uncoordinated center, with glasses, and I was ours. In hindsight, had we a minimally competent coach, which we didn’t, I might have been instructed (nicely) to not shoot from further than one-foot from the basket, to grab rebounds, at which I had demonstrated some adeptness, and to immediately convey them to a guard, who would be properly positioned to receive outlet passes, as opposed to ours, who, for usefulness, might as well have been in the biology lab. I would have also been allowed to set picks, but that was a word I did not even hear uttered until my freshman year at Brandeis, a school not exactly known as a repository of jock wisdom.
Football became my best sport. But my career peaked in 10th grade, when I was a prototypical “Mad Stork” defensive end on an excellent JV team. I hardly played, deservedly so, the following year on an undefeated varsity, but in 12th grade, when I expected my star to rise, I scarcely saw greater action. I realize Forgiveness is an important virtue, but I am damned if I can get past Coach Gogg on my master list. I don’t know if his shunning me was due to my being Jewish or a “wise guy,” both of which were true, but suddenly fellows who had played behind me for four years were logging more minutes on the old gridiron than I was. (In Coach Gogg’s defense, I would note that the only other Jew on the team, when asked by me a few years ago, denied ever sensing any anti-Semitism directed toward him. But then, he was a “star,” and I was not, so I have not been led to eliminate all-other-things-being-equal…)
I replay the palpable injustice to this day in my head and gut, while others, academic and social, have morphed into smiles. It says more about me than anything else, I am certain, but I have yet to figure out what or why exactly. If I do, maybe I will let it go. Or maybe I will settle for the attar of wisdom to be derived from retaining Grudges.
Since writing this piece, I have discussed it with the noted theologian Benj DeMott. He provides the dispensation that “forgiveness does not apply to coaches of high school athletics.”