Smells like Teen Spirit


As I mentioned a few weeks back, I volunteered to coach Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect’s 5th Grade Soccer team. I have to say, it has been fun. It’s been a few years since I coached the kids in soccer, and this time around it’s a lot more enjoyable. Of course, coaching a girls’ team makes it a lot easier. They pay attention, they try hard, and they keep their hands to themselves. You just have to be careful not to raise your voice or you’ll induce tears. Coaching boys on the other hand is like running a correctional facility. You can’t take your eyes off them for more than 5 seconds, or a riot breaks out. Their attention span is roughly 3 milliseconds. I’ve coached both boys and girls and I have yet to pull girls apart to break up a fight.

It’s the first time playing soccer for a lot of these girls which strikes me as funny, as soccer Mom’s are such a part of the culture here, that you’d think the kids dropped out of the womb dribbling a soccer ball. I guess all those articles about the sedentary Nintendo generation are true. Coaching rookies is not hard. In fact, it’s a bit easier as you can put the emphasis on playing little games to teach fundamentals. No need to fret over whether to play a 2-4-4, or a 3-3-4, or a 3-5-3. No, you just try to get 11 players on the field to stay at least an arms length from each other. One area that I have had trouble though is teaching “aggression”. This is never an issue with boys.

After they stood stone still and watched the opposing team dribble down and score in the first 10 seconds of our first game, I decided I needed to do something different. I considered teaching them the Be Aggressive cheer, as I spent so much time standing on the sideline of ND Varsity football games during my Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years, that not only did I know the cheers by heart, but I also had the choreography down. However, I doubted that teaching them to B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E, Be Aggressive (Stamp foot), B-E aggressive, would have much effect. So I scheduled some joint practices with the 6th grade girls’ team to help them get used to a little pushing and shoving.

That was when I realized for the first time that the difference between a 5th grader and a 6th grader is the difference between a child and a teenager. H-o-l-y buckets. I had forgotten how much attitude you can get from a 12 year old. The rolling eyes, the bored looks, the heavy sighs, we get that stuff at home from Lil’ Miss 20 P, but neither her nor her 5th grade classmates would dream of doing that to an “authority” figure. Then I thought back to my own 5th and 6th grade experiences at St. Joe’s to try to remember if we were any different.

I am here to report that we were not. In 5th grade I still had a secret crush on my teacher Mrs. Maier. She was firm but fair, and she always treated me like one of her favorites, commenting to my Mother during parent-teacher conferences that I had the vocabulary of a college student. (Still do unfortunately). In 5th grade I would never have dreamed of talking back to a teacher. Our class wore haloes with our school uniforms, and stood in crisp, straight lines in the hallways when it was our turn for a bathroom break. And then came 6th grade…

At some point during the summer, a contagion settled over Batavia like a fine mist, and suddenly glands that had previously served no more purpose than an appendix kicked into high gear. By the time we arrived at St. Joe’s for the first day of school, you just knew that things were going to be different. For one thing, we would now be switching classrooms during the day, as the 7th and 8th grade teacher’s taught us English, and History. And then there was Sister Josepha.

This was her first year teaching at St. Joe’s, although she had obviously been terrorizing parochial school children since the Truman administration. Sister Josepha was not the first Nun we had ever had as a teacher. Our fourth grade teacher, Sister Annette, was a rotund, jolly little woman, who played the guitar and was as wide as she was tall. She had the usual eccentric quirks you expect from a Nun, but nothing like what we encountered with Sister Josepha. Looking back, I think Sister Josepha was the first mentally unstable person that I ever met. She could be smiling, and happy one minute, then turn into a raving lunatic the next. You never knew what was going to set her off, it could be chalk dust on the floor, looking out the window a little too long, or answering a question incorrectly. Her verbal tirades became the stuff of legend.

She had buck teeth, and a habit of spitting when she leaned in close to your face and started yelling. When she was finished, she would reach into the sleeve of her habit, remove a Kleenex, and dab her teeth with it to dry them off. She also had one of the more bizarre cadences, and accents that we had ever heard. Overnight, Sister Josepha imitations became the comedy hit of the lunchroom.

“Jock, what are the five books of the Pentateuch.”

“Umm…”

“Jock, please name the five books of the Pentateach!”

“Umm…I don’t know”

“Jock! What kind of a protestant are you?!”

We quickly began to devise devious schemes to try to trip her hair trigger. It never took much effort to set her off.

There was the time she walked down the aisle after lunch, stood in front of Jimmy Sheelar’s desk, and said “Spell Ur”.

He looked up at her puzzled, with his head tilted like a dog, and said “Um… what Sister?’

“Spell Ur in my hand!” she repeated loudly, with her hand outstretched in front of his face.

Jimmy paused for a moment, and pondered what strange game they were playing. Then reaching out with his index finger he traced “U R” in the palm of her hand.

She pulled her arm back, and tried to deliver a round house slap to his ear, which just skipped off the top of his head as he ducked. Apparently, she had been asking him to turn in his spelling book.

It was a tumultuous year. By the end of it, the students had already been sorted into the categories that we would inhabit for the rest of our middle school, and high school years. The jocks, the geeks, the brains, the clowns, the trouble makers, were all diagnosed and labeled by Sister Josepha, and our reputations like our permanent records, would follow us always.

Whether our rebellion against authority began at that point due to hormonally induced chemical imbalances in our brain, or as a direct response to her sociopathic tendencies has never been determined. Some claim that we would have continued on to be the sweet, angelic youth that we had always been had she not arrived on the scene to terrorize us. Others contend that whoever taught that class was doomed to bear the full force of our scorn, and raging hormones. However, after experiencing just a few evenings of coaching 6th grade girl’s soccer, I’m beginning to understand Sister Josepha a little better. If I start carrying a Kleenex up my sleeve though, please call my Doctor and have her adjust my medication.

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