When I polled my friends to see what they wanted me to write my last blog post about, my friend Kate (webmistress of utter randomonium) requested this one, as it's apparently one of the few stories in my personal arsenal that she hasn't yet heard. Here you go, Kate.
You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I used to be on my high school's varsity football team. Oh yes. Junior and senior years, I was part of the football team. I'm not claiming that my small town was particularly progressive and allowed girls to play, mind you; I was the equipment manager. But a jersey's a jersey, and my place in the school district's athletic hall of fame was secured by our achieving district championship during my junior year. I still have my medal, somewhere. It was a point of pride for me to have an athletic activity on my transcript when applying to college, mostly because it was the sort of activity that my doctor told me not to do. Being the equipment manager was exertion enough, not just for the varsity team but also for the junior varsity and freshman teams.
It was an interesting experience, and by interesting I mean that I'm really happy I did it (if only so I have wacky stories to tell in my blog years later) but you couldn't pay me to do it now. I was, in my cheerfully oblivious way, genuinely fond of the players to whose equipment needs I tended. I would mend tears in the practice jerseys, run onto the field with bottles of water during timeouts, mix Gatorade for them to drink at halftime, and generally make myself useful to the coaches whenever I could. In return they tended to shower me with affection, usually in the form of practice footballs being thrown with my head as a target.
I have two specific memories of incidents from this remarkable time. One was of being on hand for a junior varsity game and realizing a split second too late that the crowd of rushing players was diverting off the field and making a beeline for myself. The crash happened in slow motion. I can still remember the water bottles flying out of my hands, lids popping off, water shining silver in the stadium lighting as it arced through the air before splashing to the ground. And then suddenly time caught up with itself and I was bouncing into the gravel. One of the parents asked me later why it took me a few minutes to get up.
"Well," said I, "I just sort of lay there, thinking, This was not in my job description."
It's the second story which is best remembered by anyone who ever heard it, however. The story I'm about to tell you is a little embarrassing for some of those who were affiliated with it, but it has the benefit of being true, which means nobody can sue me for slander.
As I mentioned, the varsity team achieved district championship during my junior year. Unfortunately, at the end of that year, all of the senior players graduated, and with one exception, the seniors were all of our really good players. Of the starting lineup from my junior year, only one of the players was in my own class, meaning that the team for my senior year was...well, they had...that is...
I don't think I can sugarcoat this. They just weren't as good as the team from the previous year. Nowhere was this as apparent as in one particular game, which took place on our opponents' home field.
As equipment manager, I always rode to away games on the same bus with the head coach, which was the varsity team's bus; the second bus in the caravan carried the junior varsity players. There were also two buses to carry the school's band, and one of the "short buses" for the cheerleaders. (We only had maybe eight cheerleaders.) This is vaguely important to the story.
It should also be noted that I was the only equipment manager for the three teams. I recruited a friend of mine, who was the equipment manager for the boys' basketball team, to come and help me just so I could get everything done.
Well, it was a brutal game. Horrific. We didn't score a single touchdown. The score at the end of the night was 35 to 0. Morale was, as might be expected, in the toilet. It was the coach's rule that a ride home from a losing away game was to be spent in silent contemplation, so everyone piling onto the bus was quiet. The only ones allowed to speak were myself (because, well, the loss wasn't exactly my fault) and my friend who was helping me, and we spoke only to each other or the coaches. There was a lot of equipment in the locker room to be loaded onto the bus.
Our school buses, and I presume this is typical but who knows, have storage units on the side. I would prop these open and load all the equipment into them. We had kits for helmet repair, water coolers, water bottles, a box of towels, spare footballs, tools, and so forth and so on. There was so much to load that even with two of us, my friend and I were going to have to make two trips. We brought out the first wave of equipment and loaded it, then left the storage units propped open and went back to the locker room for the remaining items. I had the key, and we locked the door to the locker room before setting out to join the rest of the team.
We reached the parking lot in time to see the tail lights of the bus as it drove off.
It was dark; they were far ahead; there was no way they could have caught sight of us. They were so far ahead that we could have been on fire and they wouldn't have noticed.
My friend and I looked at each other. I'm not sure which of us asked the obvious question, but rest assured, it was asked. "Are we on Candid Camera?"
We were lucky in one respect. My grandfather, heaven rest his soul, was working at that time as a school bus driver, and he liked to sign up for outings where I was going to be on the trip. He was one of the drivers for the band that evening, so we hightailed it over to his bus and explained the situation. I wasn't really sure what kind of reaction to expect, because he was a stubborn old German man with a bit of a temper and I thought he might be angry at the coach.
No, he laughed like hell.
We settled ourselves in the seat behind him, and he got on the radio to speak with the other drivers. This was the only part that I myself found amusing. "Say, Carol?"
"You took off in a hurry."
"Yeah, we did."
"You do have my granddaughter with you, don't you?"
Silence. We waited. After a few minutes, she got back on the radio. "No, Ed, she's not here...Nancy, is she with you?"
Another silence. Then the driver for the junior varsity team said, warily, "No....."
Carol sounded panicked. "Uh...Ed...we don't have her."
He didn't leave them in suspense for very long, which disappointed me slightly, since I felt like that was the least they deserved. I got quite the apology from the head coach when we finally got back to the school. He was a sweet man who always treated me kindly, so I couldn't stay mad at him, but it was pretty tense for a bit.
To conclude the story, the following Monday I was sitting in my psychology class. Our psychology teacher was an irascible gentleman who enjoyed shouting at students. He was also very intelligent and my class kind of adored him; we made him our faculty advisor. He and I had an amusing rapport because I would be sitting at my desk, making notes (or doodling) and minding my own business, and he would spontaneously yell my name, to which I would calmly respond. It never failed to get a laugh out of him.
During the final fifteen minutes of class, discussion diverged to the Friday night game, as both I and one of the players happened to be in the room. I was only half paying attention, on account of whatever I was writing at the moment, and our teacher happened to observe this.
He laughed. "Well?"
"What about that game on Friday?"
"Oh. That...was pretty bad."
He snorted. "You think you had it bad? They lost 35 to nothing!"
I sat up straighter and fired back, "You think they had it bad? They left me at the other school."
The entire room roared, and hard as he tried to keep his composure, even the teacher laughed. Finally he nodded. "Okay, you win."
I wish I could tell you that the team went on to improve for the rest of the season, that they picked up their game and went on to be champions again. Not that they didn't try, bless them, they did. But the fact remained that when the football season was over, we had lost all but one game. And we only "won" that game on a technicality, since the other team was disqualified because somebody hadn't gotten his shots or something equally odd.
What I can tell you is that at least the coaches learned something from the experience, and there was never again an instance of a student being left at an away game following an athletic event. It's not the legacy I'd hoped to leave with my school when I graduated, but I suppose there's something to be said for being a bad example.