My greatest moment in sports happened on my third day of fourth grade.
That was when I had to change schools to go into the TAG program or whatever they called it back then. It was my third school in three years. See, they'd made me skip second grade after they gave me an IQ test in first grade. It wasn't a problem academically -- the work was easy enough. But the neighborhood schools were so small that kindergarten through second grade was at one school (Barton), and third through sixth grades were at another (Chesterton). So not only did I have to leave my classmates behind, I had to move on to a different school from them.
But I made it through third grade at Chesterton OK. Well, sort of OK. They apparently had some sort of new curriculum there, where they didn't actually make the kids learn anything. I suppose the idea was that they'd let us learn anything we want, and eventually we'd learn everything. Or something. I don't know; I was in third grade. So mostly I just read science books all day. Every day. I knew a hella lot about prehistoric and modern animals by the end of the year, but I didn't know my times tables beyond maybe two times six.
Anyway, I start fourth grade at Chesterton, and not only are my friends from last year there, all my old friends from first grade at Barton are now at Chesterton for third grade themselves. And I meet them and play with them at recess and lunch. So, with my third grade friends and my first grade friends there, I'm telling myself that things are going to be pretty good this year. Then after two days, my parents out of the blue tell me that I'm supposed to change schools again. I'm supposed to go to Ross, where they have the "gifted program."
This is bad. I hate change of any kind. (Still do.) But now I'm supposed to go to my third school in three years, leaving the place I'm used to, my newer friends and my older, and go across town to a completely new place where I don't know anyone? No. No! I have a complete meltdown. I cry, I yell, I refuse. But they overrule me. I'm only eight years old, after all. I have to go to Ross.
So I do. It's my third day of fourth grade, my first day at Ross. I hate, hate, hate the idea of going there, but my parents drive me. When I get there, the teacher introduces me, and there's a familiar face. One boy, Tom, is the older brother of a kid I'd gone to first grade with, and I sort of know him. And that eases my mind a lot, just knowing anybody. And it turns out the brother I knew in first grade, David, goes there too, although he's a year behind me now. So I end up eating lunch with the two of them, and I feel a little better.
So anyway, I'm getting through the day, and it's not horrible or anything, but I don't want to be there. Then in the afternoon, it's time for PE. And for PE that day, we're going to play teamball. Teamball was the local (San Diego) version of dodgeball. It was a little different from the way most people play dodgeball now. First, we only used one ball, and we used a volleyball instead of those red rubber ones. Most importantly, once you got out, you stayed out. You still stood behind the endline and threw the ball at the people who were in, but you couldn't go back in if somebody caught the ball or whatever.
So anyway, we divide the class in half, which is about 15 people on a team, and start playing. And my team is getting crushed. Finally, I'm the only person left in on my team, but there's about 10 people left on the other team. Looks like Game Over.
But. We get one person out. And then another. And then I'm on fire. I'm catching almost every ball that gets thrown at me, and dodging the rest. My team and I are getting people out left and right. All of a sudden it's one against five instead of one against ten. And I go on catching, dodging, throwing. I'm the ace of all teamball players, and it's one against four, one against three, one against two. And we get one more player out.
So it's one against one, and the only kid still in on the other team is Tom, as it happens. It's just the two of us left. I catch another throw at me and I run up to the line and throw it at Tom. He tries to step away to dodge, but -- and this image is still frozen vividly in my mind 41 years later -- he can only get one leg out of the way, and the ball bounces off the heel of his trailing leg. He's out! We win!
And instantly I'm mobbed by my team. I'm in the center of 15 kids, all yelling and cheering and jumping up and down, and it's all for me. I'm the hero. I pretty much won the game single-handedly for my team. But more importantly -- to me, anyway -- I feel completely accepted at my new school.
There was nothing "official" about the game. No records were kept. The teams were improvised. Adult supervision was minimal. It was just a little 20-minute game of dodgeball played for fun by a bunch of little kids. I'm sure I'm the only one who remembered it even half a year later. But that moment when I was mobbed by my teammates was literally the happiest moment of my life to that point.
And it remains my greatest moment in sports.
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