Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 23, 2007

Baselines and Scrimmage Lines: Looking Back on My Athletic Prime

My students in P.E. like seeing me run and do exercises with them. For the older kids — say fourth grade and up — I suspect it’s because they like to laugh at the lumpy old man trying to pretend he’s still 18.

So pardon me if I reminisce awhile — like those sad middle-aged characters in the classic Springsteen song “Glory Days”.

Despite my obvious academic and artsy fartsy tendencies, I was actually a decent athlete when I was younger. Quick-thinking, if not quick moving, which made me a good catcher and third baseman in little league baseball, up through freshman year of high school. Plus I was coordinated enough to hit well, so I made the all-star teams regularly. I might have kept improving, too, if only I’d been able to hit that damned curveball the pitchers started throwing in high school.

In football, I had some bulk, so I played offensive tackle for a few years. But this too ended after my freshman year. I was only ever average at football, probably because I lacked that “eye of the tiger” intensity that makes for good athletes in any sport.

Plus, sophomore year was when I started doing theater and forensics, which tapped into my Inner Brooding Brando (“STELLA!” ; ” I coulda been a contendah…”; “Why have you done me this disrespect, waiting until this, the day of my daughter’s wedding, to ask me for a favor? I am godfather to your daughter, but now tell the truth: until today, you did not want to be in my debt.” )

Plus, theater let me hang with the *girls* after school, who smelled nicer, and didn’t mind me using big words.

Oops. I forgot the subject today was sports. Go back to sleep, Marlon.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the chance to rediscover my Inner Mike Singletary (or my Inner Bill Buckner… sorry, Red Sox Nation, he was a terrific Cub, and my favorite player, before he ever became your goat.)

And now, the enthusiastic but chubby student has become the even chubbier (but fair and mindful) teacher.

“Snatch this pebble from my hand, Grasshopper.”

Now drop and give me twenty pushups!


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