My Memoir: Dodgeball
It was the greatest moment of my life.
I attended a high school in rural North Carolina that was probably typical of rural high schools in every way, up to and including the sadistic coach/science teacher archetype. At our school it was Coach Kelly. He ran the wrestling program, was an assistant football coach, and, of course, an educator specializing in the lower division sciences. Side note: my high school has never produced a Nobel winner.
Anyhow, it was either my freshman or sophomore year and I had Mr. Kelly for PE. One day, when it was either too wet or too cold to go outside, the activity was Dodgeball. Now, Dodgeball is a wicked fun game, especially if you’re in your mid-teens and your empathy faculty hasn’t fully developed. Who wouldn’t want to rifle a screamer into somebody’s nards, especially if the somebody was your best friend?
Problem was, Mr. Kelly chose the sides. On his team (duh – of course he played) were the jocks and the cool kids. On the other side he placed all the kids whose main function was, in this game, as well as in much of the rest of their lives, to be targets. It was like letting Biff Tannen pick the teams. Literally. Coach Kelly even looked a little like Biff.
Guess which team I was on?
So the game rages, and Coach Kelly’s elite stormtroopers were, as expected, laying waste to us losers. It was like being on the Washington Generals, only with welts.
The way these games work is that you try and round up all the balls, make sure everybody on your side is well-armed, then you execute a full-on cavalry charge at the other team, none of whom can defend themselves and all of whom are against the back wall desperately waiting for the bell to ring.
Now, I may have been an outcast, but I was a sneaky outcast with a competitive streak. Specifically, a pathological competitive streak that didn’t always do me any favors. (A couple years later my girlfriend dumped me because of how ruthless I was beating her in backgammon.) Sometimes I didn’t think things all the way through. But I had an idea. I had a vision.
I quietly got my hands on a ball and sort of hid it behind my hip, bootleg style. I nonchalantly meandered over to the very side of the court and tried to be invisible. And waited. Somehow it worked.
The next time Coach’s team charged, I waited until they had unloaded all their ammo, then I came flying down the center line from the side and launched an absolute thunderbolt. I may have been a loser, but I played baseball and was second-string QB on the JV football team, so I had a decent arm.
My full-body heave, like a guided missile anointed by the hand of Apollo, was straight and true: it exploded against the side of Coach Kelly’s face and nearly took him off his feet.
You know how in movies and sitcoms when there’s a serious “oh snap” moment everyone stops and goes “oooooooh” all at the same time? Yeah. That happens in real life, too. Time froze. Birds ceased chirping. The sun stood still in the sky. Then Coach looked at me, turned a really really unhealthy shade of red, and said, “oh, now you’re dead.”
For the next minute or so the entire world was ALL. ABOUT. ME. The rules of the game – mainly the ones that said you had to stay on your side of the court – were momentarily suspended. Never in my 55 years have I been more the center of attention. Some wanted to kill me. Some probably felt sorry for me. And a lot of malevolent assholes seemed to think it was funny. But nobody in the gym – NOBODY – was paying attention to anything else.
I won’t lie. I left school that day with some red spots. But when that ball flattened itself against the side of Coach Kelly’s face, it was without a doubt the greatest moment of my life to that point.