Teachers: Mr. Braughler, Mrs. Carlson, Mr. Flaming, Mrs. Jackson, Mr. Weniger
(It’s at this point that I’ll go ahead and warn you that there’s a lot of sports stuff coming up. Even though I’m not a “sports guy,” it seems like I did a lot of sports things my Junior year. Sorry about that. If I’d known then that I would be blogging now, I might have tried to do more exciting things.)
My Junior year was a big year for me, a year of changes. For one, my brother was no longer at the same school as me, having graduated and gone off to college in South Carolina. Though I would still occasionally get called “Mike” by a teacher, to anyone coming to the school from this point on I would be how they knew the family name.
The school also got a new principal my Junior year. We’d had Mr. Akins up to that point, and he was also the football coach. Though I don’t believe it ever happened to me, I’ve heard from fellow students/players that they occasionally received more leniency in punishment during football season because they were needed on-field. And after having typed that, I now realize why it never happened to me: I was never needed on the field.
Football was even a change for me this year. I went from playing random line positions (both defense and offense) to stating that I wanted to try tight end, a sort-of line position that had me running downfield for passes, too. My timing couldn’t have been worse, as my Junior year was also the year the team started breaking in a new quarterback. I’ve explained it to people this way: “The year I decided to try being a receiver was the year we had predominately a running game.” On top of that, I was an every-other-play guy, as coach used me and the other tight end to run plays into the new QB. We had a game mid-season against our rivals Ethan Allen where coach finally had me in every play, though. Somewhere mid-game he took me out and had Chris Z. (the other guy) go in for the rest of the game. I think he (Coach) was testing to see how the two of us would do in an “every play” situation. The very next play Chris was in, the QB threw him a pass in the endzone. Touchdown, just like that. It was kind of funny, really.
Still, I ended up with impressive stats at the end of my Junior year of football: I caught 100% of the passes thrown my way and had an average of seven yards gained. This is because I was thrown exactly one pass and I caught it. I was tackled immediately thereafter, largely because I wasn’t exactly sure what to do once I caught a pass in a game, as I had never done it before. The play was “Quickie to the Left End,” where I would sprint off the line and look for the ball immediately, a play designed to catch the defense off guard. I remember catching the ball and turning to see three defenders on approach vectors… and that’s it. The story was told later that I caught the ball and then didn’t do anything – “froze” I think was the word they used – and I took some ribbing over that one for quite some time.
This was the same game where a weird penalty was called (something like “team members pushing the running back forward” or somesuch) and I was on the sideline and was asking people around me what the deal was. Coach Flaming, in the midst of being mad at the refs, overheard me and yelled, “If you’d quit wasting your time playing videogames and learn more about football, maybe you’d know what was going on!” While the penalty called was obscure enough that I doubt he was right, I find it somewhat amusing that once I started playing football videogames in college, I learned way more about the way the game is played than I ever did in high school. And I have yet to see that particular penalty called in any football videogame I’ve ever played.
If I don’t point it out he will, so I better go ahead and mention that one touchdown my friend Dave (a runningback) got was due in some small part to what he calls “a fantastic block” on my part. When tight ends aren’t running downfield on a pass pattern, they’re blocking. On this one play, Dave was coming right around my end of the line. This was apparently the one time I was able to contain the defender and Dave was able to get past and go on his way to the endzone. I only remember this because he pointed it out when the team was watching the game tape the next week in practice. So there’s that.
Our class got a new English teacher this year, Mrs. Carlson. She was… hmm. I’m not exactly sure how to describe her. After a year of running roughshod over Miss Swank, I think we probably needed a teacher like Mrs. Carlson. Talking in class was punished by push-ups. Late assignments might have you skipping around the classroom singing “A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket.” Using the word “ain’t” would get you a nose-tweaking (a Mrs. Carlson practice not limited to the classroom, as she would tweak noses of visiting chapel speakers or whoever else happened to be around her). I never had to sing in class, but I do believe I led the class in push-ups by the end of the year.
Mrs. Carlson had a habit of dragging her teacher desk over the wooden floor – she would drag it out of the way and then drag it back – a couple of times per class. It made the most horrible scraping sound you can imagine. While I am not one for pranks, my friend Eric and I hit on an idea one day. We and some other people were using her classroom after school to make decorations and we decided to nail her table to the floor. It had little removable rubber caps in the bottoms of the hollow table legs, so we removed them and nailed them to the floor and then put the table back over them. The next morning we waited for the inevitable table-pull. Sure enough, she tried. And then, with a puzzled look, she tried again. She came around front to see who had their feet on the table impeding her progress, scowled, and tried again. By this time most of us were busting up, as news had spread of our attempts to thwart the awful noise. She finally noticed us and asked us what was going on. On finding out, she laughed and laughed – luckily for us! – and admitted she knew it was awful that she pulled the table so frequently. The nails were removed after class… and she went right back to her old ways the very next day. There’s no teaching teachers!
I had the opportunity to be in the Academy Singers my Junior and Senior years, a smaller-than-the-concert-choir singing group that had occasion to travel different places and sing. Some time in December we had the chance to be part of some Christmas celebrations by doing some singing on a street downtown on a Saturday. I distinctly remember Mr. Braughler saying “no coats!” I showed up wearing my suit coat and no winter coat… and froze to death for the next hour or so. He apparently meant “no suit coats under your winter coats” but hadn’t made that abundantly clear to the more thick-headed of his group members. There’s a picture in the yearbook of us singing downtown, everyone in nice heavy coats except one lone idiot who looks slightly blue, even though the picture is in black and white.
I joined the basketball team my Junior year… sorta. A good number of my friends were on the team and they always told great stories about going off to tournaments and stuff and I wanted to be a part of it. The team needed a stat-keeper, so that’s what I did. Somewhere along the line I wrote new lyrics to “Goober Peas” along the lines of “Stats, stats, stats, stats / Keeping ev’ry stat.” At the end of the season when Coach Flaming was being pressured (a little by me, but mostly by my friends) to let me letter in the sport because I’d been at every game and all that, he said, “If you sing your ‘Stats’ song at the pep rally, I’ll let you letter.” Done & done. I guess I’ve always been an entertainer at heart, even if those I’m trying to entertain aren’t very entertained. I think there were maybe three people entertained, but I got my letter for basketball!
One day in February I was running late for school – I needed to pick up Phil and Eric and get to Academy Singers practice – and as I was headed out my dad said, “Don’t go the back way today. The roads are bad this morning.” I think I said okay, but I needed to make up some time and the back roads were the best method. I wasn’t a mile from home before I spun around a couple of times and ended up in the ditch. I spent the walk-run across the fields to my house wondering how I was going to explain to Dad that I’d gone the back route. I’m sure he was mad, but what I remember more is that he got his tractor and went and pulled my car out of the ditch. The accident scared me, and I made some specific spiritual choices following it that I still think about to this day. Aside from that, there are two other things I remember about the accident:
- My car never worked quite the same after that.
- There was a Kenny G song on the radio when I went in the ditch. I only tolerated Kenny G at that time but have been annoyed by his music ever since.
I played baseball again in the spring, my second and last season doing so. We had a new coach who didn’t like me much, but he let me play second base and had someone else hit for me. I was a pretty decent second baseman, really. Not outstanding, but decent. But I couldn’t hit to save my life. Our pitchers would hit (and hit well, in some cases!), and coach would use a pinch hitter for me. Somewhere along the line he found that another player could play second okay but could also hit, and I spent the rest of the season on the bench. Meh. I was only there for fun anyway, so it didn’t matter too much (case in point: while on the bench, I wore a baseball cap that had Vulcan ears on it). I did have one shining moment before my early retirement, though. It was shining enough that Phil, who was our Mr. Sports (meaning he was really really good at any sport he played and was really really serious about playing – I’m not sure why he liked me, frankly), and also wrote the baseball blurb for the yearbook mentioned it. We were playing Ethan Allen and a fellow came up to bat, and there was a man on first. I remembered that on his last at-bat he had hit it straight up the line over the second base, so I moved over a bit closer to the base (second basemen are actually normally placed between first and second bases). Sure enough, he hit it almost exactly in the same place, so I was able to scoop it up, step on second and throw the ball to first for a double play. Double plays are rare enough in high school ball that it was pretty exciting – I think Phil just about fell over from shock. I don’t think it would have worked out so well if our first baseman, Josh, hadn’t been 6’3”. I seem to remember him having to stretch pretty much full-length to reel that one in. Still, it was the highlight of my baseball career and I was commemorated in the yearbook with these words: “Several things from the ’89 season will be remembered […], Mark’s spirited and ‘gnarly’ encouragements from the bench, as well as his double play at Ethan Allen.”
I remember my Junior year being a pretty good year, overall, and that’s in spite of the fact that I looked like this:
Me in 1988