Have I ever mentioned my high school football injury?
It was 1971 and I was a junior at John Adams High School* in Ozone Park, Queens, New York, possibly one of the few public high schools in the country that overlooks a casino, although, back in my day, it was only a race track (Aqueduct). Here’s a picture of it and, as you can see, its design comes from the Intimidation School of architecture. (There were never colored banners hanging down when I went there, and the principal’s name, which I still remember after 40 years, was Lester Schlumpf.)
If you’re old enough, you might remember that the early 70’s were a time of pants legs that had such wide bottoms, no one could see the really ugly Earth Shoes you were wearing. It was also a time of social rebellion, much like last year’s “Arab Spring,” only without Twitter.
Back then, there was a growing anti-military sentiment in America, especially if you were a teenager, because you had to play the lottery, and I don’t mean Mega Millions. But high school gym teachers and football coaches were of a much earlier era that supported its country right or wrong. And if you wanted to play football, you supported your coach, no matter how bad his crew cut was.
I did not want to play high school football. I enjoyed sports and was fairly decent at most of them, but not good enough to play on any sort of sanctioned teams. Kind of like most of the members of this year’s New York Mets.
No, my only connection to high school sports was being editor of the school newspaper, The Campus, which had a sports section. It was in that capacity that I suffered my football injury.
You see, I had just published a scathing editorial against the Marine Corps fitness tests that were administered by the gym teachers. What I was really against was rope climbing, which I absolutely could not do, no matter how many times I wrapped the damn thing around my leg. If I was at the bottom of a well with a few dozen poisonous snakes and a maniac wielding a chainsaw, and some kindly passer-by dropped a rope down so I could climb out, I would ask the maniac to make sure the pieces he cut me into were small enough to be easily digested by the snakes.
My editorial didn’t mention all that, of course. It was more about how a public high school should not be indoctrinating its students with militaristic ideas by touting Marine Corps anything, even if it was health. I repeat: this was the time of Nixon and Vietnam.
My editorial did not sit well with the John Adams football team, the largest specimens of which ambushed me behind the school one day and gave me a black eye and some cracked teeth.
And that’s how I got my high school football injury.
I bring up this episode from my deep past in light of a story I recently came across in which two California teenagers lost fingers in a tug-of-war at their high school. This was just the latest in a long series of tug-of-war-related injuries that have seen our innocent youth lose fingers, hands and even entire arms. Why they were having a tug-of-war at all is unclear; I didn’t think high school students did anything unless it was going to help them get into a good university, and it wasn’t as if they were being scouted by college recruiters ready to hand out tug-of-war scholarships.
And don’t get me started on dodgeball. According to statistics that I am totally making up, dodgeball injuries, particularly to the head and groin, have skyrocketed, and that doesn’t even include the psychological trauma inflicted on the kids who are always the first out. It has gotten so bad that the sport has been banned at some schools. And I’m not making that up.
In fact, the latest school district to ban dodgeball is the Windham District of New Hampshire, which voted 4-1 last week to ban dodgeball and other “human target” games. Well, sure, if you put it that way.
They’ve also eliminated the games of bombardment, slaughter and prison ball, all of which I’ve never heard of, and all of which sound like sports that probably shouldn’t have been played in schools in the first place. Prison ball? Really?
Interestingly, the ban in New Hampshire wasn’t because of injury, which isn’t a surprise, since evidently in New Hampshire they play dodgeball with Nerf balls! No, the ban is part of an anti-bullying campaign, which I find laughable, because everyone who’s ever gone to high school knows that the biggest bullies are the gym teachers themselves. I had one call me a “physical idiot” once, possibly after watching me attempt to climb a rope.
I think it’s high time that high school athletic departments got reeled in, especially as severe cuts are being made to arts and academics. Students are in school to learn, not to play games, not to compete in dangerous sports, and not to be all cute and rah-rah and wear short skirts and hang around with the football players instead of the more intellectual, creative types.
Of course, there’s a good chance that members of the 1971 John Adams High School football team are still around and, if they stopped playing while they were still young, did not suffer debilitating head injuries. If that is the case, let me admit that my editorial in The Campus was possibly ill-advised and over-zealous but definitely of the times, and that if you have lived your entire lives ruing your decision to beat up a defenseless writer who was just finding his voice, I want you to know that I forgive you.
On the other hand, if multiple concussions suffered as teenagers have turned one or more of you into a raging psychopath, you’ll find me hiding in the bottom of a well.
See you soon. (That’s you, my readers, not you, the guy with the chainsaw.)
*After 75 years and no alum more famous than Jack Lord of the original Hawaii Five-0, John Adams High School was closed last year. It will be reopened soon as “Future Leaders High School at John Adams Campus,” which, I guess, means that if someone demolishes the school now, we can stop a generation of politicians in its tracks.