Teachers: Mr. Braughler, Mr. Flaming, Mrs. Jackson, Miss Swank
The word “sophomore” is apparently a combination from a couple of Greek words that translate into “wise” and “stupid.” There could be no better word than this to describe the experience of tenth grade. Sophomores are wiser for having lived through their freshman year but are still really, really… dumb. You’ve heard the word “sophomoric” applied to something stupid? It’s the perfect description of one’s behavior in this year of school.
Let me give you a perfect example. My friend Phil P., middle son of two faculty members at the college my high school was associated with, lived a few blocks from school. Many times after school while waiting for my brother to finish up with some after-school activity, Larry K., Phil, and I would walk to Phil’s house so he could drop off his schoolbooks and then we’d walk a few more blocks to Shopko, usually to play Shinobi, one of the best videogames of all time. One day that we did this, Larry had a Roman candle with him – you know, one of those fireworks that, when lighted, shoots out balls of different-colored sparks and a whole lot of smoke? – and was fooling around with it. We were in Phil’s upstairs room and Larry was taunting Phil by holding a lit lighter a few inches below the fuse. Phil was … wound a little tightly as a general rule, and Larry’s actions were garnering the exact sort of responses he was looking to get (Larry’s already-established reputation as a firebug certainly didn’t help). The teasing was going well … until the fuse lit. Apparently a couple of inches isn’t enough leeway to allow. So now there’s a lit Roman candle giving off sparks and smoke in Phil’s room, there’s me sorta laughing in disbelief, there’s Phil yelling, “Put it out! Put it out!” and there’s Larry blowing on the thing and smacking his other hand over the top of it in an attempt to put it out. I’ve never seen a person’s eyes go as large as Phil’s did right then. Somehow Larry was able to extinguish the candle, but the whole upper floor of the house was full of smoke. We opened windows and set up a fan to blow the smoke outside and somehow convinced Phil to continue on with us to Shopko. When he returned home afterwards (without us), there were apparently many questions asked and at least one edict handed down: “No more Larry in this house.” Frankly, that wasn’t a bad rule of thumb, and it was a rule that Larry’s own father had considered many a time, I’m sure. Larry and his family ended up moving away during the second semester of our sophomore year, and I’ve only seen him once since then.
Our school got a new math teacher this year and it was because of my experiences in math class my Sophomore and Junior years that I was planning to go to college to become a math teacher. (Taking pre-calculus my Senior year disabused me of those notions rather quickly.) Not only did she present math in an interesting and easy to understand (for me, anyway) way, she was also willing to listen to the common travails and thoughts of the common sophomore. There were more than a few classes devoted to discussion of some pressing topic other than math, as I recall. Geometry was the math for sophomores, and I took to it like ducks to white bread. Proofs, 3D graphing, trigonometry, the whole deal. I loved it. I remember helping my friend Malia (more on her in a bit) out one evening with 3D graphing. To help her visualize it, I grabbed a cassette case she had lying around and showed her the X, Y, and Z axes on it. It helped, but it also amused us to no end because the cover was for a Def Leppard album (Hysteria, I believe), exactly the sort of music that was verboten at our particular parochial school. It actually may have been that fact that helped her recall the facts when she needed them on the final test.
Malia lived in the same town I did, about 20 miles from the school. I don’t remember exactly when we started riding to school together, but I remember that my brother started driving him and me to school when I was in eighth grade. I’m sure proximity played some part in it, but Malia and I became fast friends. She was fun to be around, always quick to laugh or to listen. Over the next couple of years I would spend a lot of time at her house, as her family was as interesting and as willing to open their home.
In the second semester of our sophomore year, Malia was one of the first in our class to get her driver’s license (I still remember that her birthday was March 31, mostly because Phil’s was April 1 and we always joked that their birthdays had been switched). My brother was a Senior, as was my friend Josh’s brother. Josh’s family lived about a half hour from school, too, albeit in a different direction, and he and I were both going to have difficulty getting to school for the week our older brothers were going to be gone on their Senior Trip. It worked out that Malia got her license and a plan was made for Josh to spend the week at my house and for Malia to take us to school, a perfect solution – except for the fact that we were sophomores. One day (I think it was Tuesday, but I don’t know why I think that) we talked new driver Malia into driving from our town (20 miles south of school) to Josh’s town (20 miles east of school) and then finally to school, very late, of course. To this day I’m not sure why we did it, other than to celebrate the freedom that having a similarly-aged driver brought. By the way: this little story is only now being confessed to. We made up some story about car trouble back then. Any parents, former teachers, or administrators reading this should consider this a plea for forgiveness.
This year was also the first year for Eric N. at our school. He’d been homeschooled up to this point, if I remember correctly, and his parents wanted him to be able to have the high school experience. He and I hit it off pretty quickly, and became good friends for years, and, in fact, we still correspond every so often. Eric was – how shall I say? – wilder than I, and hanging out with him brought out crazy tendencies, but mostly of a non-destructive nature. We never blew up cars or anything, but we did go out “bird hunting” at least once. It was the one and only time I’ve ever shot at another living being (on purpose).
I went out for football again this year, and still didn’t really have a “place.” I played a little more, mostly on defensive positions where Coach Akins felt I couldn’t cause too much trouble.
I also went out for wrestling this year, and I was in the 145 lb. weight class. (I, in fact, weighed 145 lbs. my whole high school career, and at least one year into college. Alas, those days are behind me. Sigh.) The problem with wrestling in the 145 lb. weight class that year was that there were two other wrestlers in that class: one of our top wrestlers (Paul Z.) and my brother. I didn’t wrestle much that year. There was one tournament, though, where my brother and I were able to enter a tournament as “alternates.” I pinned my first guy (my one and only pin and my one and only victory in my wrestling career), and ended up wrestling Paul for my second match. He made short work of me, of course, and I actually ended up wrestling my brother. The ref must have thought we were crazy, since we talked during the whole match – Michael giving me suggestions on how to “work that arm” and whatnot, me mostly kind of laughing at the silliness of having to wrestle my brother. He ended up beating me on points (I was difficult to pin) and I think that was probably for the best.
It was a busy year for me, sports-wise, as I also went out for baseball. Again, I didn’t play much, but the week that the seniors were gone on their trip we younger members got to play. I don’t think we did very well, and I very specifically remember an actual occurrence of a hit ball going through my legs. I guess that’s a cliché for a reason, eh? I made up for it my Junior year, but I won’t ruin that for you right now.
The remaining big memory I have from my sophomore year is our English teacher, Miss Swank. For some reason, we ran roughshod over her. To this day I’m not sure how or why, but we constantly were talking and playing jokes on her throughout almost every class. On one particular day, someone brought a water gun into class. It was Jeremy V. that had it in his possession when she demanded it, and for some reason, he pulled the trigger when she was standing in front of him. His story after the fact was that he knew the gun didn’t shoot straight and he was sure it would miss her. Unfortunately for him it didn’t miss her enough and the few drops in her hair spelled his doom. I think that was Jeremy’s one and only dismissal from any class ever.
What really amuses me is that a few years later, my friend Eric – who had been as much a prankster in Miss Swank’s class as anyone – met and eventually married Miss Swank’s younger sister. I’d like to have been around at those first few family gatherings…
Here, for the curious, is how I looked as a Sophomore in high school:
Me in 1987
This was my first year of wearing contacts, and my first year of having a crewcut. It’s actually grown out in this picture – at its worst my brother said I looked like a war criminal. So there’s that.
Next up: Junior year. The only preview I’ll give you is there’s a car accident in it.