This is pretty much what Greendale Elementary School looked like in 1965, though there was no crosswalk painted on Sumas Prairie Road in front of the school. It was early spring when I finally got to go back to school, now in a completely different province. But not only was there the trepidation of starting a new school and having to make new friends all over again, there was a sense of humiliation as well. It settled over me like a shroud. It was because Greendale was an elementary school. But I was already a Junior High Schooler, back in Winnipeg. It seemed like being put back a grade, failing. It was then that I learned that even the Junior part of high school doesn’t begin until the eight grade in BC. What a calamity. What a crisis.
I entered through the front doors, climbed the stairs, turned left and Mr. MacLaren had me take a seat. Class was already underway. They were taking geometry and trigonometry. Heads were down. Pencils scratched their way across foolscap, the light in the room was an intense, incandescent yellow. I sat, looked at the worksheet and had no clue what they were studying. Even though I was pretty good at math. Dread upon dread. I was a Junior High Schooler and these elementary school kids could out do me in arithmetic. Gawd.
Most of the other subjects were easy enough and I was able to squeak by. I even picked up on the math pretty quickly, so the academic part of that term wasn’t too memorable. It was more the extracurricular activities at the school that engaged me and a sound lesson on being part of a team that Mr. MacLaren instructed me on.
I could be a bit of a pouty kid, if I didn’t get my way. One day we took the field for PT, to play softball. It was a small school so our PT was co-ed. Being that I was a fair ball player, I thought I should be given one of the more interesting positions to play, like first or second base. Clearly I wouldn’t get to be pitcher because Tyler Smith, the school super athlete would play there and Tom Doncaster would likely get to be the catcher. I was put in the outfield, near the back fence, close to the cow pasture. There was not a single girl taking a turn at bat that was ever going to hit the ball out my way. I sulked, folded my arms and said I wasn’t going to play.
In a firm way, Mr. MacLaren pointed out that it was a team game, it was our PT class and that I wasn’t going to be allowed to be a spoiled cry baby and that I would take my spot. There was no threat, no ‘or else’, just simply a command to be part of the team, that I was not the team, just a part of it. I went back to my place near the cows and actually had fun being part of the group.
I was quite a good athlete back then, especially a good sprinter. In our school field day, there were several track and field events. Each kid was only allowed to compete in a few events. I remember sprinting down the homestretch of the two hundred, well in the lead, and seeing my mother, standing on the side with other volunteer mothers, smiling with eyes wide. It was the first time I recall knowing that my mother was proud of me for achieving something.
I didn’t get to run in the hundred yard dash, because we were only allowed a few events each. Mr. MacLaren had drawn up a big chart and placed kids into event slots. Probably so that the super athletes wouldn’t get to win all the events at the field day to the exclusion and humiliation of the other less athletic kids. Brooks got to win the hundred. I was pretty sure I was faster than him so I challenged him to a runoff. My first place ribbon in the two hundred against his first place ribbon in the one hundred. He agreed. We put ourselves at the starting line, had Brooks sister say ready, set, go, and we raced down the track. He was fast, but I was faster and won by a couple strides. I congratulated him on his good effort, but he did not hand over his first place ribbon for the hundred. But because our field day wins at our school meant we got to go to the city track meet in Chilliwack as part of the same track team, I didn’t force him to hand it over or get into a fight over it, because I learned about being a team player from Mr. MacLaren.
Another event that I didn’t get to go in was the high jump. Pretty sure that Tyler Smith won that. But I thought I could do pretty good at it so I did some high jumping into the sand pit where the event was set up. Back in those days most of us did the scissors kick in high jump, but that technique didn’t get you very high. Real high jumpers did the straddle. I think the record holder back then was a tall Russian fellow who jumped over seven feet, in a high straddle arch, barely clearing the bar, landing and rolling in the sand pit. I couldn’t do the straddle and the Fosberry Flop hadn’t been invented yet (or foam mats to land in). I decided to try a straight run at the bar and leap vertically, coming down headfirst. I thought I could cushion my landing with my outstretched arms, transition to a somersault roll and show that I was an expert high jumper.
But my hands and outstretched arms did not cushion my landing and I came down on my head into the sandpit. I remember hearing a crack coming from my neck and my vision twinkling away momentarily. I may have lost consciousness for a second, but I was eventually able to rise from the sandpit, to the mocking laughter of the bystanders, brush myself off and make the long walk home. I didn’t realize until later how close I had come to turning myself into a quadriplegic.
I didn’t get to run the two hundred at the City track meet in Chilliwack. Instead I was placed in a field of three runners doing the four hundred. But I was a sprinter and even the two hundred was at the limit of my endurance. I finished last. Third out of three. Last by quite a distance behind the second place finisher. Still there was a ribbon. And best of all, on the drive home, Tyler Smith’s dad took us for ice-cream. He was probably happy because Tyler won five or six first place ribbons and was getting to go to the Junior Olympics in Abbottsford.
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