I haven’t thought about it in a long time, and I suppose I never really thought that much about it anyway, but I guess I played a lot of organized sports as a kid.

I was in a bowling league a couple years like around first and second grade, in Texas, and then again as a teenager in Illinois. I played football between fourth grade and fifth grade, in Fairfax County VA, then again between fifth and sixth grades in Norfolk VA, and then in the summer of 1976, between sixth and seventh grades, in Illinois.

I played soccer in Fairfax County as well. And basketball. And baseball. This was all through the county parks department, I think. Near us was Lee District Park, so I guess we were in Lee District. That’s what I seem to remember as organizing the leagues. But then I seem to remember having some sort of local business on our baseball jerseys.

I was utterly terrible at baseball. I was too afraid to swing at the ball, so I’d just sit there and hope for balls, to get a walk to get on base. And it was so much worse to strike out on called strikes, rather than go down swinging. I remember my teammates screaming in frustration, to just swing at the fucking thing, rather than standing there dumb like an idiot. But I couldn’t swing. I don’t know why. But I couldn’t.

I did get a hit once. The count was like 2-0 or 3-0, and I vaguely recalled my father having said to me that in such a situation one really had not a whole lot to lose by swinging. The pitcher was going to have to try to get something in the strike zone, rather than just let you walk. So I swung and connected with the bastard, popping it into centerfield. And I then just stood there with my mouth hanging open, astonished that such a thing had happened. I can’t remember now if somebody caught the fly ball or if I made it to first base or what.

I have some other memory of actually running around the bases and making it to home, but having the run not count for some reason. That may have been a different time, although you’d think I’d remember a second hit if that’s what it was. But I remember excitedly racing down the third base line, but the other team wasn’t paying much attention to me, walking around, or walking off the field I guess. I think there was some rule about only being able to score a certain number of runs per inning, so that we maybe had reached that number by the person ahead of me crossing home plate, so then that was the end of the inning, despite the fact that a play was kind of, you know, still going on.

I’m not sure how they organized players, by age or weight or what. I think football was by weight, because I was never on a team with my brother, but we were on the same baseball teams. And basketball. In fact one year our Dad was the basketball coach. I seem to remember that my Mom had coached my sister’s girls basketball team one year, and then Mom and Dad both coached teams the next year. Greg Francois, John Triggs, Chris Lynch and Larry Kane were all on the basketball team, I remember. We had blue shirts, but I think we named our team the Celtics. I was horribly sick with some staph infection around the time of team pictures. I looked terrible.

Katrina Radam’s dad coached soccer one year. Then Keith Wilson’s dad coached the next year. I remember Mr. Wilson had a rule that you had to wear a long-sleeved sweatshirt underneath the soccer jersey. I forgot for a game once, and he sent me home to get one.

I always loved playing football the best, probably because that’s the one I played the best. They must have organized the leagues by weight, because I dimly remember this one kid being all nervous about being too heavy at weigh-in. And that’s probably why I was any good at football, because we were all pretty much the same size. And I seemed to understand better than most of the other kids that one of the main objects of the game was to hit other people, and we were kids and we were used to throwing our bodies around and into each other with abandon, and here we were like totally encased in plastic and padding and there was no way any of this was gonna hurt. So I remember playing defense, playing linebacker, my first year. That was fun.

Greg Korn’s dad was our coach. Greg was a real little guy, but he played running back. Chris Burns was the other running back. I played fullback, too, now that I remember, because Mark Lynch was an offensive lineman, and I totally plowed right into his back during practice one day. He must have been standing in the hole I was supposed to go through.

I remember we had this offensive system where the plays were designated by numbers. Each back had a number, and each hole between the offensive lineman was numbered. So like Timmy Myers the quarterback was number one, and like maybe Greg was two, Chris was three, and I was four. Between the center and the right guard was hole #1, between the guard and tackle was #3, between the tackle and the end was #5, etc. And the left side was the even numbered holes. So like play #12 was Timmy running forward between the center and the left guard, and play #35 was Chris getting the handoff and running between the right tackle and right end. I suppose like maybe play #48 would be me sweeping around to the left, but I don’t remember what exactly sweeps were. I think play #10 was just a quarterback sneak straight over the center. Maybe I was two, and Greg and Chris were three and four, now that I think more about it. But whatever.

I thought it was a neat system, in that it allowed for a lot of plays but we dumb kids didn’t have to remember too much. I don’t recall much passing the ball though. I do remember that we did have one trick play, a double reverse. It always used to confuse me, though, because we didn’t ever learn or have a single reverse. I always wondered about that, why we’d have the double but not the single. Being that I played on offense and defense though was a bit helpful in practice, against that double reverse. Because normally Greg and Chris would line up behind the quarterback each on a certain side, except that the one time it would be different would be the double reverse. They’d switch sides. And being a linebacker, being a little more free to move side to side behind the defensive line, I could gravitate over to where I knew the offense was going to run. I’m sure I felt pretty smug about all this. Probably still do.

Our defensive coach was Mr. Ed Keightley. He also apparently repaired TVs, because we took one to him once. Or I think maybe he was taking a TV repair class or something. But this TV we took to him wouldn’t show a picture. You could switch channels and hear everything just fine, but no picture. I remember listening to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes one night, trying to figure out what was going on when nobody was talking. Mr. Keightley never did figure out what was wrong with that TV. We just had to get a new one.

Mr. Keightley taught us what to do in case of a trap play, if as a defensive lineman or blitzing linebacker your opposing offensive lineman pulls and just lets you through rather than blocking you. He said that we were supposed to drop to our knees and just grab legs, any legs that were nearby. I clearly remember this being in like these written instructions that we had, these xeroxed written playbooks that we had. And the specific instructions were written in like the hand printed version of italics, they were that important. I don’t think we ever faced a trap play in any game that we ever had, and we sure never had any on offense, so we never even practiced it. But I still sometimes think about Mr. Keightley when Washington runs that trap play that they’re kind of famous for, the one that John Riggins would get all kinds of yards with. I think it even has its own name, not just “trap play” or whatever.

Our team name was the Dolphins, although I don’t know that we ever won any game, and we certainly didn’t go the whole season undefeated, like I think the Miami Dolphins had the year before and was probably why we chose the name, even though our colors were green and gold. I had jersey #74. My next year in football was in Norfolk, and the jersey was one of those shiny fancy kind with a kind of mesh hole system in it and I was #81. Again with the green and gold my last year, with #15. Although you can see from the picture in the earlier post that the #15 is just printed on and is in white, whereas my #74 jersey had gold numbers that were sewn on.

In Norfolk my brother’s coach was Mr. Smith, and I think my Dad was an assistant coach. My team scrimmaged their team once, and they were bigger and totally wiped us out. But I remember my brother lining up on defense against me as the left end on one play, and I executed a nifty low crackback block on him that put him out of the game.

My last year in sports was on the eighth grade school team, on the JV soccer team, at Eisenhower Middle School in New Jersey. I wasn’t especially good and didn’t play much.

Oh, wait, I ran cross country in high school, in my junior year, again on the JV team, and again I wasn’t much good. I could run run run forever, but just not especially fast. And then I developed shin splints and didn’t much like to run very far after that. But like running ten miles was only for practice. Cross country meets were only three miles. I was the only player who smoked.

I’ve played on softball teams at various jobs I’ve had in Washington DC. I worked at the Office of Federal Tax Services for Arthur Andersen. Our team name was the Tax Dodgers, with our hats having the same “D” logo as the old Brooklyn Dodgers. Tax Dodgers was funny until Andersen got indicted. But I still love my Tax Dodgers jersey. When I worked at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, our team name was Orbital Debris. At Deloitte & Touche, I only went to a couple games. But I’ve been making up for my sins as a youngster, in that now I swing at fucking everything. I will never just watch a strike zip by me ever again.

I’m forty-one now, and I play league kickball with my work team. Our team name is the Ash Kickers.

One thought on “Sports

  1. I had no idea that you played so many sports in your youth. Neither did my wife. She said she never would have guessed that you used to be a football player. She said you were so thin in high school she thought that a gust of wind would blow you away!

    What other lives have you lived that we don’t know about? You could write slice-of-life books, a la George Plimpton.

    The only “sport” in which I had any real success was bowling. My brother Andrew and I played in a league at the old Bowl America Pla-Mor in Arlington, which was bulldozed to make way for the entrance to I-66 West at Ballston. (Actually, I believe that there’s a hotel on that site now.)

    We were members of the American Junior Bowling Congress, or AJBC, for about four or five years. We belonged to teams and rolled three games every Saturday morning. (The total pins counted as a fourth game for some reason.)

    I remember meeting plenty of characters in that league, back in the mid-to-late 1970s. One tall black guy loved the band Earth, Wind & Fire, and regaled us about their amazing stage show in which the band stepped out of a space ship. There were two nutty guys named Derek and Timmy who were always getting into trouble. One time they showed up on Saturday and they looked awful. They had made a stupid bet to see who could stay up the longest without sleeping, and proceeded to bowl (erratically) while on speed.

    One time I was on a team with my brother Drew and my high school friends Brud and Brent. We psyched out the other team by showing up wearing jerseys from all of the fast-food and ice cream shops where we worked. I remember that we had shirts from Gino’s, MacDonald’s, Baskin-Robbins, and something else.

    One time I went too far when trying to psyche out another team. I turned to a younger kid on the opposing team and made a lame attempt to talk some sort of jive. (We were both white.) I said, “Does your mama wear combat boots?” He cried and went home. I ended up getting a very cross lecture from our bowling coach. He said, “What did you say to him?!” When I told him, the coach, Larry, said, “Some people are very sensitive about their mothers!” I felt about two inches tall.

    My friend Sam used a fingertip grip and bowled left-handed. He walked up on the right side of the lane and threw his ball so far out to the left side that it almost fell into the gutter before making a dramatic last-minute hook back into the pocket. It was something to see. When things didn’t go well he’d punch or kick the wall, if he happened to be bowling on the last lane.

    One kid named Devin was pretty wild. He’d lift the ball way up over his head before letting it loose. This didn’t help his accuracy. At various times he would let the ball go right into the gutter. I also saw him throw it onto someone else’s lane once, and another time he let it go backwards. I learned not to sit behind him.

    I usually held an average of 135 or 140. I cracked 200 five times in my life, but I don’t think I ever did so during official league play. Maybe I did, but if so I’d probably remember it.

    My dad used to like to bowl and would take us with him to the Skor-Mor lanes which were across the street from the Planetarium adjacent to W-L High School. It was nice of Dad to take us there. We enjoyed ourselves, and Dad would always ask us if we wanted a hamburger and a Coke. It’s a nice memory. He taught us to bowl by keeping our right arms straight and by paying attention to the arrows on the right side of the lane.

    Dad had trouble with his eyes in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He had cataracts and then he had detached retinas. He was told that he had to quit bowling because any kind of exertion could cause them to tear again and cause even more damage. That was a shame, that he had to give up something that he enjoyed, and that we could enjoy with him.

    I think I’ll call him on Sunday and thank him for the times that he took us bowling.

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