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Bowling

High school was not the best time of my life. Our family was somewhat dysfunctional. Mom had left us when I was eight; Dad had remarried and we moved to a middle class neighborhood in the suburbs. I found myself in a high school which was totally absorbed by a sports tradition of winning top honors across the state. Being on the football, basketball or cheerleading teams was where one reached the pinnacle of success and admiration among fellow students.


The coaching staff for the men’s teams were hyper masculine, butch types. They all taught health and physical education and expected all non-team members to perform, near the level of actual athletes in all of the PE activities. I was probably below average in my performance, interest and commitment.


Needless to say, the coaches weren’t impressed with me or the other boys like me. Some of us were demeaned and even bullied when we couldn’t do the overhand rope climb, the expected number of calisthenics or run as fast as the real athletes. When it came to team activities during PE we were always the last ones chosen for a team or were simply assigned a team because we were the left overs.


I did get to work on the school newspaper as a photographer. It was one of the places in my high school where those of us with pocket protectors and slide rules could feel at home among other athletically-challenged nerd types. A second place for us was the bowling team. I remember being a pretty good bowler, although not the team member who ever rescued our team from defeat; it was enough to just contribute and have a little fun.


Our bowling coach was Mr. Bryant. I remember that he was either vertically challenged or horizontally over blessed, which is to say that he was grossly, if not morbidly, obese. But he was a nice man who smiled and laughed a lot and made us all feel good about our effort and contribution. We weren’t shamed or embarrassed by our inability to measure up and didn’t feel in any way “less than” when bowling.


The grandiosity of our team banquet paled in comparison to the annual football and basketball banquets; I know that because the newspaper dispatched me to photograph the proud moments of the real athletes for all to see. But our bowling banquet was ours. Team members and families gathered to celebrate our successes. Mom wasn’t there because she had been absent for a long time; I don’t remember why Dad wasn’t there. But I was there and proud when awarded my letter for bowling.


As soon as I could I used money from my job at the library (nerdy, right?) to purchase a jacket on which to affix my letter. Failing to recognize the disdain it would trigger when wearing the jacket to school it was soon relegated to a corner of my closet never to be seen in daylight again. Somehow, I wish I still had that jacket. And somehow, I wish I could see Mr. Bryant again and tell him how much I appreciated him.



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