Saturday, May 13, 2017

Football and French Teachers

     Due to tight budgets, high schoolers across America are subjected to athletic coaches being distributed amongst the real teachers. Often, these coaches end up “teaching” easy and/or undesirable subjects like social studies - or in the case of the Anglo-centric South, foreign languages. One of my favorite high school memories is of a particular day in French class. I don’t know what possessed me to take French over Spanish, but that’s what I did - probably the most interesting thing about this class was that it was taught by the head football coach.
     Coach Lowe was a very typical coach-teacher: Mondays were spent analyzing our team’s successes or failures the previous Friday night; Tuesday through Thursday was handled by distributing worksheets to be completed open-book style in class; and Friday was blown off entirely in anticipation of that night’s game. We also had some Tuesdays off – sometimes for our school-wide assemblies and sometimes because the Coach had to go to his Rotary Club meeting.
     One day, though, Coach Lowe decided to take a rare spin around the blackboard – planning, in fact, to actually teach a little French. Before entering the classroom he was distracted by some assistant coach in the hallway, and we wisely used this time to write all over the board and then throw the erasers into the prickly bushes outside the classroom. Returning to the class he quickly discovered the problem and went out to procure an eraser. By the time he came back, we had also disposed of all the writing instruments for the board. Quite confused but not yet defeated, he left again to remedy the situation. Feeling the need to ramp up the disturbance, we began removing desks and chairs from the classroom and hiding them along the outer wall of the school. This time when he returned, we had students with no seats for his eagerly anticipated teaching lesson. Frustrated, he grabbed a handful of his football players (oh, yes, excellent French students – no coincidence they were in the coach’s class) to obtain desks from an unoccupied classroom. Miraculously, when the new desks were brought in, we were still short about the same number of desks. Baffled, the entourage went on a second mission to transfer desks into our classroom only to discover the same shortage on their return. Now at this point, the Coach realized two things: 1) there were only 8 minutes of class remaining and 2) the previous teacher had really left that classroom a mess and needed a stern talking-to.

     To the uninitiated, there’s just no adequate way to describe a Southerner’s obsession with the sport of football. For so many of us, it is the first sport we learn – probably tossing a football before throwing a baseball. It’s the way of life.
     The entire year revolves around football: in the spring, we gather players and formulate strategies for the available personnel. In the summer we begin our grueling two-a-day workouts leading up to the start of the season. Joyously we know that fall has arrived because football is being played. We pore over statistics and injuries and records and opponents. We faithfully attend every game we possibly can and watch those we can’t. Birthdays, anniversaries even funerals must be planned around the football schedule. When the all mighty farm gods require we harvest during the football season, all attempts are made to break for the game, and if that is impossible, we play that home-team, Larry-Munson-style radio broadcast while on the tractor or combine. As winter arrives, we rabidly root for the highest prize possible – that state championship, the national championship, the super bowl championship. If by some cruel misfortune our home team is out of the mix, we diligently play basketball and baseball and track through winter and spring to keep us in shape for football season. We will continue year round to analyze our school, your school, the rules, the system, the possibilities…
     During the football season, every day of the week revolves around football. On Monday we are discussing the results of the weekend and if players, sharpening our skill for next weekend. On Tuesday we are evaluating where we stand and where our college and professional teams stand. On Wednesday as we continue to prepare – judging the weekend’s matchups to either play or cheer or adjust our fantasy picks – we are looking ever more closely at our opponents’ tactics. Thursday puts the finishing touches on all our adjustments for the upcoming game(s). Friday is game day in our hometowns. With no movie theaters or dance clubs to compete with, our rural communities attend the Friday Night Lights as if that game was the resurrection of Jesus Himself. By Saturday we are caravanning to our college game where 100,000 other die-hard fans cram with us into our massive Southern football stadiums in support of our team. Sundays we are glued to our televisions rooting for all those homegrown heroes who made it to the big leagues, and when Monday comes around…  we do it all over again.

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