Episode 7: Camp Win

Sat. September 24, 2016

FINALLY, we won a game! The Spartans beat the Hamilton Lions 22-21 in a spectacular match. The game was won with a combination of Sal Medrano’s running around the end and Enrique Rodriguez’s “Gold toe.” Big Bern was also a big part of our win, collapsing half the opposing defensive line most of the night. This was a big win for us, not just because it was our first win, but also because it was a conference game. This gives us a 1-3 record overall, but a 1-1 record in our conference, which means we still have a shot to get into the playoffs—and with the way we played against Hamilton, it actually seems possible. Last week we were off, due to a bye in our schedule. Being a new team we were lucky to get the 8 games we have on the schedule, and even luckier that we managed to get 4 of those games at our new stadium.

Our conference has five teams: St. Ignatius, Lincoln, Hamilton, Gastonville and Lafayette. We’ve beaten Hamilton but lost to Lincoln, giving us two more conference games to earn a spot in the Kentucky High School Football State Playoffs. Hamilton is one of the weaker teams in the conference, as are we, but if we manage to beat Gastonville and Lafayette, we will make it into the playoffs.

The game started with us kicking off and Hamilton returning the kick for a touchdown. I winced as Coach Miss Youngblood started squeaking and screaming right next to my ear. When we got the ball on the ensuing kickoff, however, our offense really came into its own. The “Grit and Spit” style was working beautifully. Sal could consistently pick up 5 or 6 yards around the end. Zach Ames powered his way up the middle for 2 or 3 yards at a time, and Perry Grimes broke two runs for 20+ yards.

When we came within 20 yards of the endzone, however, the story changed. Their defense tightened up and our boys had trouble getting any forward momentum. Lucky for us, we had Enrique. The first half went pretty much like this. We move the ball down the field, Enrique kicks a field goal, then they get the ball and score a touchdown on our defense. At halftime we were losing 21-9.

Coach Nix pulled me aside before we went into the locker room. “Watch the door. I don’t want Pendleton coming in here and hijacking my halftime speech again.” He had done that already once, during the Lincoln game. I suppose he thought he was helping by trying to motivate the kids, but the kids don’t really know John Pendleton. They know his name and reputation, and they’ve seen his face at practice, but he’s not the one sweating with them every day. I was happy to stand guard, but I didn’t know how I would stop him from coming in the locker room. He is at least partially my boss too.

The halftime speech Shawn gave was amazing. “We’re losing 21-9, but you’ve already proven that we can beat these guys. We’ve moved the ball up and down the field without any problem. How many schools can gain 150 yards in the first half without throwing a single pass? I don’t care what the scoreboard says, the Spartans are better than these Lions.”

As I stood guard I started to fill up with pride. He was right. For once, our team was better than the opposing side, and it felt great to know I contributed to that.

Shawn carried on, “The only thing stopping us is us. Ya’ll act like you don’t deserve to be winning, and are losing confidence when you get close to the endzone. But I’m telling you, this is a game we can win!” I got literal goosebumps as he yelled those words.

“We’re Spartans! Did you know that to be a Spartan warrior you had to first kill a lion and bring back its pelt before you could join the Spartan Army? That’s why they were such fierce warriors, because after you’ve killed a lion, fighting against another human is a piece of cake. They had confidence. I know we’re facing the lions now, but you all have already defeated a lion this year. You strapped on these shoulder pads, trusted us coaches, and went through hell all summer long to get to this point. I’m telling you, y’all have slain the lion already!”

Even when he was spouting nonsense, such as that story about Spartans killing lions to join the army, he was magnanimous. Pendleton never showed up to interfere, but when the players and coaches came out I noticed that Cherice had tears in her eyes. I suddenly realized the attraction. It was his earnest desire to help these kids succeed. When the kids got back on the field, they were ferocious. Brett Cobb was a monster at linebacker, racking up 11 tackles and 2 sacks in the second half alone. Enrique kicked two more field goals, making the score 21-15. Hilton “Speight the Hate” got our teams first interception of the season, which put us within 20 yards to the endzone. The very next play Sal Medrano kept the ball on the option around the right side, dancing around the defense and scoring a beautiful touchdown. With only 4 minutes left in the game, Enrique kicked the extra point to put us ahead 22-21. Our defense stopped their next drive and that’s how we got our first win.

Sun. September 25, 2016

Because we were off last week, Shawn thought it would be a good opportunity for more team-bonding. He organized a camping trip for all the Seniors and called it a “leadership retreat.” We rustled up a few tents—I had one four man tent, Shawn had another, and we borrowed a five-man tent from Mr. Pendleton, who said he had one laying around but I’m pretty sure he went out and bought one that same day. That was enough since we only have 10 Seniors on the team, and it was just Shawn and myself who went as chaperones. We drove for about 3 hours, to Daniel Boone National Forest. When we got to the campsite Shawn told some of the players to gather some sticks and pine straw to start a fire while the rest of us set up the tents. Everyone was having a nice time, and since Hairy Perry didn’t come (he’s a Junior), there was a break from the constant conflict between him and Sal.

After we got a fire going and everyone had settled in we started cooking our dinner. Shawn had given good advice about what food to bring. “Just get an old coffee can, remove the plastic top and pack it with ground beef, chopped potatoes and carrots. Add some salt and pepper and wrap the whole thing up in tinfoil. That’s coffee can casserole.” Knowing Shawn’s culinary prowess, I followed his instructions and was not disappointed. Campfire food always tastes better.

After everyone had their fill, Shawn began to expound on Spartan leadership. “If St. Ignatius was like Sparta, you’d be training football since birth,” he said. “The Spartans started training their babies to be warriors. Imagine that,” he carried on, “ an army of baby warriors. It might seem silly to us, but that’s how they fought. They had their normal warriors, but they also had the baby brigades.” I could only guess Shawn had read and understood less than half of the Wikipedia entry on Sparta. “I know y’all think y’all are too young to be leaders, but if babies can be warriors, I think 17 year olds can be leaders.”

After another hour of Shawn droning on about Spartans, Leadership and occasionally circling back to mention the baby warriors, we all retired to our tents for the night. I fell asleep pretty hard and fast, but couldn’t have been asleep for more than a couple of hours before I was awoken by some violent screaming coming from one of the other tents. I switched on my headlamp and crawled out of my tent to see what was happening. Shawn was crawling out of his tent at the same time and saw the same scene I did: The campsite was a wreck. The coolers were upended and the uncooked food that was meant for tomorrow’s breakfast was strewn all over the campsite. The screaming was coming from the tent sandwiched between Shawn’s tent and my own. We opened up the zipper and saw an even more disgusting scene. Offensive lineman Harold Quimby was sat upright and covered with vomit and Big Bern was laid on his side, coughing up chunks of half digested food while Hilton “Speight the Hate” pounded on his back.

“He wasn’t breathing coach, and we did what Coach Miss Youngblood taught us,” Speight said. “We checked his airway and there was food blocking it, so we turned him on his side and Harold shoved his finger down his throat to remove the food.”

It took a few moments to piece together what had happened, but after Big Bern returned to consciousness, it became pretty clear. We should have seen this coming really. Because Big Bern’s routine was tampered with, he fell back into his old ways of sleepwalking and sleep-eating. In his stupor he had managed to find the food in the coolers that was reserved for tomorrow’s breakfast, and haphazardly shoved most of it in his mouth—raw bacon and ground beef, a couple of raw eggs and raw potatoes that were reserved for making hashbrowns. All that raw food must have made Big Bern sick and he vomited all over Harold Quimby’s sleeping bag.

Thankfully, Hilton and Harold thought quickly and probably saved Big Bern’s life. And it was all because of the CPR training that Shawn had organized through Coach Miss Youngblood. As Shawn and I sat there, making sure Big Bern was ok, Shawn looked me straight in the eyes and said, “EMSK how to perform CPR, am I right, Gary?”

Tues. September 27, 2016

I woke up on Sunday feeling awful. I had a fever, headache, muscle aches, and nausea. I must have caught the flu from one of the students. The flu has been going around, but thankfully none of our starters have contracted it. Only a few players have gotten sick, and Shawn quarantined them from the rest of the team. Initially, he wanted them to wear surgical masks and continue practicing, but seeing as how none of the sick ones could stand up on their own for more than a few minutes before feeling faint, making them practice with a surgical mask restricting their breathing seemed like a bad idea. I called Shawn on Sunday to let him know I wouldn’t be coming to the coaches’ meeting on Sunday.

“Ok sweetcheeks, you just lay in bed and let Terri take care of you,” Shawn said sarcastically. “Do you have someone lined up to substitute for you tomorrow? Because I’d love to give a crack at it.” “Do you know anything about music theory? or do you play an instrument?” I asked.

“No, but how hard can it be?”

After he said that, I was resolute in making sure he was not my substitute and called Principal Goodlove. “Shawn Nix wants to substitute for me, but since he doesn’t have any background in music, I think its a bad idea,” I told Goodlove.

“Well, we’re going to need him to sub for someone, because we’ve got 5 teachers sick with the flu and only 4 substitutes that can come in. Besides,” said Goodlove, “he does have a master’s degree in education.” That’s how Shawn ended up teaching religion studies to a bunch of St. Ignatius High School students on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I returned to teaching on Tuesday.

At lunch I asked Shawn when I came back how class has been going. He smiled real big and said, “I’m teaching the mess out of those kids. They’re learning what religion is all about now!” Coach Miss Youngblood, who was sitting next to Shawn, just rolled her eyes.

I know so little about their relationship, and I’ve purposely tried to keep it that way, but it seems that they are becoming quite comfortable with each other. They rarely display signs of affection, but little signs—such as the eye-roll—are indicating that their relationship is progressing.

Before practice I was sitting in the coaches’ office with Shawn and my curiosity got the better of me. “So how things between you and Cherice?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to know.

“It’s beautiful, Gary,” he said. “Cherice is an amazing woman. She’s so determined and focused, and she’s one hell of a lover.”

I immediately regretted bringing up the subject and decided to change it. “What kinds of things are you teaching in religion class?” I asked.

“All sorts of stuff. The Jesuits and Franciscans, did you know there’s more than one type of Catholic? I had no idea.”

Wed. September 28, 2016 “Do you know what your mother had to go through just to bring you into this world!?” I heard Shawn yelling when I walked into the weight room about half an hour before practice was set to start. “Do you think its funny to hurt someone’s manhood? What if he can’t have kids of his own one day because of you? Will it still be funny when Sal is impotent and its all you’re fault.”

The target of Shawn’s tirade was, of course, Hairy Perry Grimes. Several of the boys were goofing off in the weight room before practice. They were doing this trick to make each other light -headed, then push each other up against the wall, making the one being pressed upon pass out. Hairy walked in right as Sal was passing out, and thought it would be funny to take vengeance on Sal by kicking him between the legs. Sal regained consciousness to find a deep throbbing pain in the pit of his stomach and in his crotch. I had heard of kids doing this to each other before, but it was the first time I had seen it happen.

Shawn turned to me, and with a familiar look in his eyes said, “These boys don’t respect life, I know what’ll teach’em.” I knew that look well, it was the look he had when he came up with the family swap idea and the suicide hotline idea. When Shawn gets a bright idea his eyes twitch rapidly from left to right, while his left eyebrow raises, as if by a fishhook.

Thurs. September 29, 2016 Before practice today Shawn decided to reinstitute the practice of watching a film before practice. This had been banned since Sal swapped the intended video for a sex tape featuring Hairy Perry’s mother. The film Shawn chose: A homemade video of one of his friend’s wife giving birth, uncensored.

“I don’t care if you get a little queezy, don’t you dare turn away. This is life, and its the way every one of you were brought into this world…unless you were born by C-section, but don’t worry, because I’ve got one of those videos too.”

Less than a minute into the video and the room began a cavalcade of disgust: “ugh” “oooh God” and “ahhh gross!” I went over to coach and said, “Maybe this isn’t the best motivation for practice today coach, we don’t want anyone getting sick again. A third of these kids are still recovering from the flu, myself included.” Coach looked at me as if he had just been betrayed.

“So because you got the flu these kids don’t need to respect the life-giving process?”

“Well,” I said, “when you put it like that…”

“And besides,” went Shawn, “if these boys put half the grit and spit into their game that this woman is putting into giving birth, then we won’t lose another game all year.”

He had a point there. The face Shawn’s friend’s wife was making trying to push that baby out was full of grit…and even more spit.