Posts Tagged ‘School’
I enjoy driving back and forth on three town blocks for hours on end just as much as the next person. Don’t get me wrong. But sometimes it’s just not a satisfying experience.
Dragging “Main” was our primary activity on Friday (after the football or basketball game) and Saturday nights in high school. We didn’t actually spend much time on Main Street. Fourth Street was the main drag in town.
The Fourth Street circuit was bookended by the Methodist Church and Grade School on the north and Dr. Poling’s office and Leinwetter’s Funeral home on the south. We put in hundreds of miles on that one street over the course of a school year. On a good night, there would be twenty other cars honking as they drove by. Some nights there were only a handful of cars.
Dragging “Main” without getting bored was an art. The best at the craft knew how to mix up the evening with a stop at Dunker’s Radio and T.V. side lot to chat with someone in another car; drive around Atwood Lake; go up High School Hill; around Kelley Park or stop at John’s Dew Drop Inn for a game of pool (or in my case Frogger).
On a slow night, the masters of dragging main would mix up who was in the car or combine one carload of passengers with another. The best nights were spent in cars that could easily pick up KOMA out of Oklahoma City or, if you were lucky, WLS out of Chicago. A good tape deck with 8-tracs from now classic bands such as REO Speedwagon, Journey and Foreigner helped, too.
But, even these tricks of the trade were not enough to satisfy. Sometimes you had to get creative. Or, go home out of sheer boredom.
Matt Cunningham, Tim Yount and I faced that dilemma one night. I can’t remember if it was early fall or late spring. I remember it was cold enough for jackets. We just couldn’t get fired up about steering the family Chevette around the streets of Atwood. Hard to imagine, I’m sure, but that’s how we felt.
Our first attempt to liven up the evening fell flat. Singing Christmas Carols in October or March (whichever it might have been) annoyed more than entertained our audiences. After awkward experiences at three houses we climbed back into the Chevette to brainstorm plan C.
I don’t know who the fourth, fifth or sixth person was to join us in the car. I don’t even remember how we came up with the idea. But, by the time there were seven or eight riding along we were on a mission.
People started to notice the number of passengers in the car as we cruised down Fourth Street and through the Dunker parking area. Some people lobbied to join us. After a few more bodies we realized we had to be more strategic. We needed freshmen and others of diminutive stature. At one point, we stopped at John’s (Dew Drop Inn) in search of people near five feet and 100 pounds.
The rule we made for ourselves is that the car had to be drivable (a relative term clearly with no regard for safety). Our goal was to shoehorn in as many people as possible and still drive down Fourth Street. We packed people on the floor, popped the hatch (the most comfortable seat available) and rolled down the windows to accommodate protruding body parts. Our final tally exceeded 20 in the car.
My dad was in the middle of his take pictures of everything phase of life. We stop at our house where I ran to find my dad while the rest of the passengers tried to hold their positions.
Our night that began in the doldrums became one for the record books – or at least the scrap books.
Anger is a staple of modern public discourse. Perhaps, some people will say, that’s always been so. The fact that a mean spirited element has long existed makes it no less toxic.
Most of us have freshly burned in our memories people shouting down members of congress at August town hall meetings. And, in some cases, members of congress shouting back down their constituents. Fresher still are images of a member of congress shouting down the President during his address to a joint session of Congress. Immediately after, there was a spike in campaign contributions to the offending member of congress as well as his opponent.
In the social media sphere it is not uncommon to see anger filled political comments sprinkled among the updates on newborn nieces, vacation photos and business updates. Perhaps we share some of the anger we read in our respective news feeds. Perhaps some posts make us angrier still because we disagree – especially if we have not carefully filtered out all those who think differently.
In my community, I see anger expressed on a daily basis in our local newspaper. There is a section in the paper in which people can express anonymous sentiments about any subject of their choice. Each morning I read people sniping back and forth at one another over everything ranging from the Apostle Paul, to whether the President should make a speech to school children, to health care, to who knows what else. It’s like a car wreck. So many people I know feel sad by what they read but look religiously.
So many of us feel sorrowful about the current state of public discourse and yet the toxicity persists even amplifies. We listen to calls for civility with a cynical ear. We implore political candidates for office to be more civil not believing that they will. What we don’t often consider is that, perhaps or even probably, the conduct of political candidates is a reflection of their communities and that civility begins with each one of us.
Don Haddad, Superintendent of St. Vrain Valley Schools, suggested at a recent school board meeting that each of us can contribute to a more civil public realm. Here is what I took away from his remarks:
It has become a habit when we read, hear or see something which we don’t like to immediately express anger without thought or care for the consequences. We don’t consider how we might be stirring the cauldron of toxic public discourse.
We need a new reflex; a new habit. When we read, hear or see something which triggers an angry feeling inside, we must resist the temptation to express those emotions immediately, unfiltered. Instead, the feelings of concern should trigger each of us to ask questions, to learn more, to channel our feelings of anger into a learning opportunity. We may find where there is smoke there is no fire. Or, perhaps we will find a situation with enough complication that shouting each other down will do nothing but fan the flames and impede progress further. In either case knee jerk reactions of anger are not useful.
I appreciate Mr. Haddad’s remarks because I can act on his advice. I don’t need to wait for anyone else to take action first. And though I may find it hard on occasion it is a good standard to strive for.
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Also published in www.johncreighton.com
Ada Grace Creighton was born Grace Ann Creighton on December 18, 2001.
Grace Ann is a fine name. Everyone in the family was fond enough of it. But it was clear from the beginning (at least to me) that it may not fit just right.
I kept my concerns to myself because I could think of no good alternatives. I like the name Grace a lot. Ann is fine, too. I have cousins and good friends with the name Ann.
It was the combination of the two that didn’t work quite right for me. You see, to me, Grace Ann – especially said very quickly – sounds a lot like Greason. Jimmy Greason was my next door neighbor when I was growing up. From the moment Grace was born I think of Jimmy every time I hear Grace Ann said together.
I called my parents to tell them about Grace’s birth. “We have another girl,” I said. “Her name is Grace Ann.” It was an uncontrollable reflex. In the next instant, I just blurted out, “Jimmmmy.”
Again, I did my best to hide my misgivings about the combination of Grace Ann and my peculiar speech reflex.
Joni is fond of the name Grace, too. She has no special attachment to Ann, it just seemed to go well with Grace (clearly we did not communicate well on this point).
Joni, though, was thinking of her own childhood neighbor when it came to names. Ada Wederski was a special person in her life. She very much wanted to give Ada’s name to one of our children. She just couldn’t seem to come up with a good way to work it in.
It became clear soon after Grace’s birth that she would be our last child. There would be no more opportunities to honor people by giving their names to our children. But, that didn’t stop Joni from thinking about Ada.
Some friends of ours, when Grace was about three, had a daughter of their own. Ava Grace, who lived a short but special life, was the name she was given. She was the inspiration Joni needed.
Joni always imagined Ada as a middle name never a first. Grace Ada just didn’t roll off the tongue. But, Ada Grace, that just might work.
Joni kicked around the idea in her own mind for quite a long time. Grace was five years old before we talked about the idea together. Was Grace too old to change names now?
I thought why not. Grace wasn’t yet in school. School is what sets a kids name in stone – at least while they are at that school.
Joni and I agreed it would be okay to make the change. We asked Grace but she didn’t warm to the idea immediately. Joni told her the story of her neighbor Ada and that helped a little. But Grace wasn’t quite ready to change identities.
Scheduling issues and preschool desires led us to send Grace to a different elementary school for kindergarten than Emma and Joe. She would switch back to Central Elementary in first grade.
The second week of kindergarten a strange thing happened. Grace, without consulting anyone, began to sign all of her papers with Ada. That is sort of Grace’s way. She does things quietly with little or no fanfare.
Grace’s teacher was confused. Where did this name Ada come from? All of the school supplies, name cards at the desk, coat hook and locker said, “Grace.” Let’s go by “Grace” this year. We all agreed.
First grade, back at Central Elementary, provided another opportunity for Grace to decide if she wanted to be Ada Grace or just Grace. She still wasn’t sure. Her teacher, Kelly Sanseverino, said, “We need to decide so I know what to call you.” So Grace took the plunge and declared herself to be Ada Grace. And, that’s how all her classmates know her now, as Ada. At Central Elementary, there is no turning back.
Old friends still call her Grace. At home, it’s a mixed bag. I hardly ever call her only Grace. It’s either Ada Grace or Ada for me. Emma and Joe go back and forth. Joni tends to call her Grace in the summer and Ada during the school year. It’s a name that is still taking shape.
But, I like it. It’s unique. It’s a pretty combination, Ada Grace. It makes a connection between generations of people who were special to Joni. And, it saves me the embarrassment of reflexively shouting out “Jimmmmy” when some says Grace Ann.
Amy (Bondurant) Milton, her husband Steve and their kids spent some time at our house this week. The kids are staying with us while Amy and Steve get settled at their new house in Yuma, Arizona. Steve will be stationed with the Army at a base near Yuma for the next three years.
Conversations about Yuma, Arizona reminded me of a story told by my brother’s classmate Bill Beamgard. We were sitting in the stands in Yuma, Colorado; there to cheer on the Atwood Buffalos in a game against the Yuma Indians. Someone in our area of the cheering section asked how Yuma, Colorado got its name. Bill knew the answer…
“Back in the late 1800s the folks who settled this area were having trouble agreeing on a name for the town. There were many suggestions to name it after this family or that, after this civil war general or that, but no one could agree.
In an effort to calm folks down, it was suggested that the honor of naming the town be given to the next person who rides into town. The settlers agreed that the first words uttered by the next traveler would be the name of their fledgling village.
Later that afternoon, a stranger arrived by horseback. The settlers were eager to hear what the man had to say. They ran out of their stores and homes and gathered around the stranger as he tied up his horse near the saloon. They called out greetings to the stranger but he just tipped his hat without saying a word.
Each morning, the stranger would go the cafe for breakfast. Settlers would attempt to entice hime to talk. But, he’d just cordially nod his head. In the evenings, he’d take a drink at the saloon. Again, a nod or tip of the hat was his only method of communication.
The settlers were getting angry. They needed the stranger to talk so they could at last have a name for their young town. One settler became so angry that he confronted the stranger in the saloon. He demanded that the stranger say something. But, the stranger just shrugged his shoulders and turned back toward his drink.
The angry settler had had enough. He drew out his pistol and shot the stranger in a rage. Realizing the horrible deed he’d just done, the settler rushed to the stranger’s side. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘But don’t you have anything to say.’
With his last gasps of life, the dieing stranger choked out, ‘You mo…’”
The settlers adapted the new name of their town just a little.
Billy Mills is the only American to win the Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meters. His coach, before and after competing for the University of Kansas, was Bill Easton – who also coached Dad in college.
The “story” was that Mills and Easton never really got along. I had the chance to hear Billy Mills speak at the Kansas Relays in 1984 as part of a 20th Anniversary celebration of his Olympic victory. At one event, Mills was asked about his difficult relationship with Easton. I still remember his response: “I am the only American to win the Olympic 10,000 meters. Bill Easton was my only coach.” He said no more.
That was Billy Mills’ bottom line. His success spoke for itself. Bill Easton was a part of that success. No more explanation was needed.
That is how I feel about my academic preparation at Atwood High School. I have been fortunate to experience academic success at the University of Kansas and Harvard. I have had many years of professional success since that time. My preparation for this success began in Atwood.
Many Atwood teachers inspired me to work hard academically. Really, no more explanation is needed. But, there are some funny stories to tell, too. Things happened in the classrooms of AHS that would never fly today.
First, another tangent. I came across an article recently that identified people born in the late 1950s to the mid-1960s as, “The Dumbest Generation.” Ouch.
The article went on to explain that those of us in our mid-forties performed worse than any other cohort of students on tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the SATs (fortunately those of us from Atwood took the ACT and can be held responsible for low SAT scores). The article also suggested that standards in American schools were at an all time low during our years in K-12.
Neil Howe, the article’s author, had this to say about our generation: “Compared with earlier- or later-born students at the same age, these kids were assigned less homework, watched more TV and took more drugs.” Shall we all sing the chorus from Gilligan’s Island or the Beverly Hillbillies?
I like to make Howe’s point in a different way. We were the last generation to go to college before the mothers got mad and before C. Everett Koop told us to be careful.
I experienced both low standards and high at AHS. In some classrooms the standards were as high as any I’ve experienced anywhere. I was challenged to stretch myself on a regular basis. In other classrooms, the standards were non-existent. Just showing up gave you a good chance for an A.
In Biology class, we spent two weeks listening to and analyzing Pink Floyd The Wall. It made perfect sense at the time. “Biology is the study of life. Pink Floyd The Wall is an album about life.” I don’t think a biology teach could get by with that today.
And, there were one or two teachers in the building who found class time rather inconvenient. We were given assignments, told where to find the teachers manual if we needed help and then the teacher left the room to pursue other interests. No one held these teachers accountable.
Let me be clear, these teachers were the exception not the rule. On the other hand, the gaps in my college preparation track with the classrooms where teachers were absent. And, the reverse is true, too. In the classrooms with high standards, I was well prepared for college.
My bottom line is the same as Billy Mills. I’ve had success. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. Atwood schools are the place where my preparation began.
I began wrestling at age six during an era of dominance. Wrestling was THE sport in Northwest Kansas when I was in grade school. In fact, the Northwest Kansas League (NWKL) was Kansas wrestling.
Between 1951 and 1970, the NWKL won 17 out of a possible 20 state champions. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the small schools from the northwest had to take on all comers including the Wichita and Kansas City area schools. There were no classifications. NWKL teams won 12 of 15 titles during that period.
In the late sixties, the tournament was divided between very big schools and all the rest. NWKL won all five tournaments under this format. In the 1970s, the modern classification system was developed. For the first time, some NWKL teams would wrestle in the 1-2 A tournament while others competed in the 3 A tournament (later 1-2-3 A and 4 A tournaments). That meant even more titles for the NWKL. During the 10 year span, the league claimed 15 of 20 possible state crowns.
Any NWKL team that won the league championship was the odds on favorite to win the state tournament, too. All eight NWKL teams won at least one state championship. Atwood’s year was 1973 (Atwood won a second title in 1989). St. Francis, the smallest school in the league, was the most dominate team winning ten titles in the thirty year span.
I remember the surprise, perhaps even disappointment, of the died-in-the-wool wrestling fans when the Atwood’s basketball team won a state title (1972) before the wrestlers reached that goal.
This was an exciting time for a young boy. Success breeds interest in a sport. The dominance of the NWKL and Atwood being competitive cultivated in me a lifelong interest in wrestling – even though I didn’t wrestle beyond the eighth grade.
I remember making my way through crowded hallways outside the Atwood gym. The pictures of former state champions lined the walls. Reinerts, Rudas, Lorimers, Higleys, I don’t remember them all, were larger than life figures to the young fan.
The gymnasium was always full even for dual meets. Kid wrestlers were the warm-up act. I usually wrestled Wayne Lanning. We were the two smallest. I’m sure the picture of me on my back is not indicative of the outcome of the match.
For a six year old boy, the crowds were awe-inspiring. I could hardly concentrate on my match because I was focused on all the people in the stands. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
I traveled along with my Atwood classmates to Kid Wrestling tournaments all over northwest Kansas and a state meet in Manhattan. I took home lots of medals, even a few gold. But I was always more of a fan than a competitor.
I loved the dual meets. The National Anthem. The band. The cheerleaders. The rituals of 12 grapplers shaking hands then taking chairs on either side of the map. One or two wrestlers warming up in back waiting their turn. The evening beginning with wispy boys of less than 100 pounds and eleven matches later men of more than 200 pounds. Each teams’ coach perched on a corner of the mat yelling inaudible instructions.
Tournaments were even better. Wrestling tournaments have a unique energy that is hard to describe. Three or four rings of competition. Non-stop for an entire day – sometimes two. Everywhere you look: effort, determination, strain, victory, disappointment. A human drama before your eyes.
The early 70s match I remember most took place in Colby. Dave Brown was matched up against a wrestler from the Kansas School of the Blind. It might have been for the state championship. Dave was our heavyweight. The blind wrestler appeared to be twice his size. He just sat on Dave. “He’s got to move. That’s stalling.” These were the calls I heard from the frantic Atwood crowd.
I lost interest in wrestling at the time I had to worry about making weight. But, there was always a nagging voice saying you should be on the mat.
The NWKL lost its wrestling dominance about the time I entered high school. Other parts of the state had caught up. They had developed kid wrestling programs, too. Between 1981 and 2009, the NWKL is still competitive but they’ve only won 16 of a possible 56 state titles. Not quite the glory years.
I’m glad I was able to witness those years of dominance.
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For those interested in looking up past Kansas state wrestling champions. You can find information here.
There are businesses in many communities that play a role that transcends commerce. These businesses don’t just sell a product or offer a service. They are a source of community.
These businesses are celebrated in the movies, on television and even in the comics. The Diner in Diner, Arnold’s on Happy Days, and Pop’s in Archie’s comic books come to mind.
Several places in Atwood played this role: Currier’s Drug where I coveted the Chocolate 400; Atwood Lanes were I worked on my pinball skills as well as bowling. The adults had their own hot spots. Currier’s, of course, was the place to play horses; the donut shop on 4th and Main; and, now, the “new” donut shop and Williams’ Bros. I’m sure there are others, too.
These are the places where people go to catch up on community news and gossip. A standard lunch time question from Mom to Dad was, “What did you talk about at Currier’s today?”
A cornerstone of Atwood teen life when I was a teen was John’s Dew Drop Inn.
I remember when John’s was born. Before it was even John’s.
I had to attend a city council meeting as a requirement for the Boy Scout Citizenship in the Community merit badge. They held the meetings in Marion Frye’s office in those days at the abstract office. On the agenda that night was a liquor license for Tom Ruda. (Am I remembering that right?)
The Rudas invested countless hours converting Stehno Market into The Dew Drop Inn. A mural covering the east wall was the most discussed element of the Dew Drop décor. High School art students were recruited to finish the job – my guess is sometime after John Vap became proprietor and added pizza as the featured fare.
Pizza joint or not, I always ordered a hot salami and cheese, with mayo, on rye. A meal at John’s was a great change of pace from the standard high school lunch on those days when we piled into cars in the high school parking lot and raced down Main Street for a quick bite. Racing back and forth was half the fun.
John’s was one of those places in a teen’s life where you did nothing in particular but everything that mattered happened there. My memories are true snapshots. I spent hundreds of hours at John’s but have few complete memories. If a movie was being made of Atwood in the early 80s, my memories of John’s would be a “video montage.”
Choose your own sound track for background music…
Families sitting in the front booths sheltered from the noise in back. The back room crowded with teens and twenty-somethings playing pool to the sounds of The Rolling Stone’s Start Me Up – did anything else play?
Thorn Hayden, surrounded by a support staff of girls, making pizza. Jolinda Beamgard, Dawna Heble, Lisa Collins and Deb Montgomery taking orders in their red and white Dew Drop t-shirts
Roddy Dill camped out at the Asteroids video game racking up points I could only dream about. Jeff Rummel going to new levels on Donkey Kong. Playing Frogger – spending my time on George Castanza’s favorite game due to my lack of skills on games that required use of more than one hand.
Crowding around a radio perched near the cash register to listen to Kyle “The Animal” Lanning win a state wrestling championship. Watching USC kick a winning field goal to defeat Notre Dame while eating pizza with my parents.
Regrouping between shifts dragging Main. Deciding whether to stay with the group I was with or get in someone else’s car. Picking up more – preferably small – people to pack into my parent’s Chevette.
Planning Oktoberfest concert trips to Hays to see Hall & Oates or John Mellenkamp. Getting details on the Toga Party at the Lankas farm.
As these memories flash across my mind I understand why movie makers celebrate the teen hang out. Whether we are young or old, a hang out is the place we can go without invitation to nourish our connections to others who call our community home.
John sold pizzas. He created jobs. And, in ways that are hard to describe, he provided a community service. I’m grateful that he did.
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What are your Dew Drop or hang out memories?
One challenge I wrestle with as a parent is the same challenge I encountered as a manager. What motivates me does not necessarily motivate others.
Our daughter Emma has a tender heart. She responds best to nurturing and praise. She abhors structure. And, she thinks and works visually. She’s decidedly a right brain kind of gal.
I’m not. My left brain dwarfs my right. I discard visuals to focus on text. I’ve had co-workers tell me I have ice in my veins and chafe at my penchant for “clear plans.” And, I get motivated when I get a kick in the pants.
For instance, the teachers who inspired me to elevate my “game” were those who made it clear I had underperformed. I can remember their words as if they were said (or written) only yesterday.
Miss Bearly, my first grade teacher, who made me stay after school to improve my work, “This is too sloppy.”
My high school sociology teacher, Mr. Finn who said, “I would have expected better from you.”
My high school history teacher, Mr. Bliss who explained my poor grade saying, “A student like you should choose better words.”
Dr. Seaver, a highly respected history professor at KU who wrote across the bottom of my paper, “This is rotten careless work.”
And, Dr. Malcolm, an economics professor, who simply wrote at the top of my first exam: 36 – F.
I dug myself out of a hole and earned an A in each of these classes (well I guess you don’t get As in first grade). I wasn’t pushed in the same way in the classes in which I received Bs.
What motivated me, in part, is I don’t like to lose. When the challenge was put squarely on the table, “you can do better,” the classes became a game. An “A” meant victory.
My professional mentors who pushed me hardest brought the most out of me, too. Neither Mike Hayden nor Rich Harwood was too concerned about my feelings when things needed to get done. Their attitude was have fun when the work was done. That was just fine with me.
Emma doesn’t respond so well to this approach. As you can imagine, we occasionally butt heads.
She was doing math homework the other night, calculating square footage, when she declared, “This is stupid. No one would do this in real life.”
I looked at the problem and offered, “I do this kind of math all the time in my work. Your mom has to figure out square footage when we do house projects.”
“Look at that problem again, Dad,” Emma demanded.
I read: A garden is 18.75 feet by 4 feet. If a bag of mulch covers 7.5 square feet, how many bags of mulch would you need to cover the garden?
“We do those kinds of problems all the time,” I said again.
“No you don’t,” Emma rebutted.
“We do, Emma,” I replied, trying not to be impatient.
“If it was you, you’d say, ‘Ah, it’s about 80 square feet. Buy a dozen bags and if we have extras we’ll take them back to the store,’” Emma concluded emphatically.
I had the feeblest response of all, “Please, just do your homework, Emma.”
Emma is self aware. She knows that competition is not her thing. She turned to me one night and stated flatly, “Dad, I’m just not competitive like you.”
On the outside, I was calm and understanding. “That’s okay, Emma. Not everyone is.” On the inside, a voice was shouting in my brain, “What is the matter with you?!?”
I learned a lot as a manager. I worked at it. I tried to understand my style and the styles of my employees. I wasn’t perfect by any stretch. Some days, I pushed too hard and had to back off.
But, I have good relationships with my former employees and we did kick-ass work. We set standards that people still talk about. I take that as a sign that something was right.
Somehow, what I learned as a manager doesn’t always translate well to the home. Emma and I still search for that space in which we can bring out the best in each other.
Sometimes we do better if we pick the right time of day. Late Sunday nights is not one of those times.
Sometimes we just need to give each other room – or at least I need to back off. Occasionally I’ll offer to help type a paper and she gives me a leery gaze. “No suggestions,” she’ll say. She knows me too well.
Mostly we do better if I’m disciplined about limiting my role to asking questions without commentary.
I also try to remember that the effort to discover what motivates our kids is part of the process of growing up. As Joni often reminds me, Emma’s only eleven years old. And, I’m only forty-four.
We both have a lot more growing to do.
There are some traditions that should end. The AHS Athletic Club’s (A-Club) initiation ritual was one of those traditions. At the time I didn’t think so. I took pride in the fact that the class of 1983 was the last to eat the dreaded sandwich (the class of ’84 can protest if I am mistaken).
Our generation – those of us born at the tail end of the baby boom and the beginning of Generation X – experienced the end of an era.
The late ‘70s and early ‘80s were a time in which excess was unofficially tolerated and sometimes officially sanctioned. I joke that we were the last group to begin college before the mothers got mad and before Dr. C. Everett Koop told us to be careful.
When we began college, a DUI was a minor offense in terms of punishment. Things began to stiffen up and the drinking age was elevated to 21 from 18 before we finished college. Our class was grandfathered into the era of dime draws and beer fest fundraisers.
Hazing was one of the excesses still tolerated in this era. The worst hazing I witnessed occurred in Ellsworth dorm, where I lived my freshman year at KU – far worse than anything done at the fraternity house. It’s just not a great idea to put hundreds of unsupervised 18 to 21 year-old boys into one living area.
Hazing rituals were alive and well when we began high school, too. The hazing I experienced was tame. I never felt I was in physical danger. But, I would not condone my own children doing to others what was done to me.
Matt Cunningham, Tim Yount and I were escorted out of our first high school dance by a group of seniors. They took us to Atwood Lake where we were instructed to strip to our underwear. Our clothes were deposited on the spillway bridge. We were let out of the car on the opposite side of the lake.
We protested our treatment for show. Secretly we didn’t mind too much. It only took a few minutes to get around the lake and reclaim our clothes. And, then, the event was over.
The A-Club initiation was more involved. We were made to run and do other physical tests I really can’t remember. The final rite of entry into the club was the requirement to eat a dog food and peanut butter sandwich and drink a glass of butter milk laced with vinegar, bulb onions and bread. Those who finished were given a steak dinner as a reward for their efforts.
Upper classman crowded around the “diners” to ensure that every bight was savored. There were penalties for those who tried to discard any part of the special meal. We all gagged as we tried to eat. Our gills were green. An unspoken question passed through our minds, “What exactly is the point?” But, we were determined to get through. No one was going to say, “This is ridiculous.”
In the wake of the event, parents privately protested. The practice was brought to an end. There was speculation about who might have complained. I never learned and it doesn’t matter.
We turned the end of this ritual into a badge of honor. We scoffed at the people who complained. Our senior year, Mark Buhler, Kevin Dill, Tim Yount and I made t-shirts – “I’m a Sandwich Man” – to celebrate that members of the class of ’83 were the last at AHS to have passed the sandwich test. As the picture suggests we reveled in our unique status.
I believe social rituals are important. Rites of passage help to build camaraderie and community – important social bonds. But I now understand it’s possible to create rituals – even tests of strength and mind – that maintain people’s dignity. Gagging down food not made for human consumption is not the best way.
The year was 1975. Or, perhaps, it was the spring of 1976. I was 10 years-old and in the fifth grade.
There was a big tadoo on the playground that must have been spilling into the classroom. I don’t remember many details. It involved boys tormenting girls or scuffling among themselves to show off for girls – one of those things that fifth grade boys do to demonstrate their affection for fifth grade girls. The problems were significant enough that our teachers felt compelled to intervene.
I don’t remember the early warnings to “cool it.” I don’t remember the late warnings to “shape up or else.” Hey, I was 10.
I do have vivid memories of the final decree: Until further notice boys and girls will play on separate sides of the playground.
A segregated recess? I was outraged! I had never experienced such an injustice!
The truth is I don’t remember if I was really mad or not. I do remember that I was bound and determined to do something about it. We should be able to decide for ourselves who we play with at recess.
Our fifth grade was divided into two classes. Mrs. Ottem taught one class. I was in Mr. Weishapl’s class. Mrs. Ottem and Mr. Weishapl traded classrooms once each day (the students stayed in their own rooms). The teachers made the swap so that each could focus on their specialty. I believe Mr. Weishapl taught social studies and Mrs. Ottem English.
I checked in with a few classmates at lunch about the recess decree. We decided it was time to get organized.
That afternoon, I put together a petition and two signature sheets – one for each class. On the petition, I outlined our demands. My guess is they read something like this: The fifth grade class would like girls and boys to be able to play together at recess. We don’t think it’s fair that they can’t.
The next morning I circulated the signature sheets. A classmate took one for Mrs. Ottem’s class. It probably took us a day or two but before too long nearly every student in both classes endorsed the petition. I was feeling confident.
I’m fuzzy on some of the details but I think that Amy, or maybe Jan, took responsibility for delivering the petition and signature sheets to the teachers. I was a ring leader but not always courageous enough to do all the work myself. Okay, I’ll say it, I put my classmates up to things.
On the day of petition delivery, Mr. Weishapl left the room to teach in Mrs. Ottem’s class just the way he did every day – walking with purpose, tie straight, suspenders over his neatly starched shirt, a book under one arm, a ruler in his other hand – looking like the man who had started his teaching career in a one room school house decades earlier.
I sat in the back row in nervous anticipation. I knew he would soon learn about our recess demands.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Mr. Weishapl was storming back through the classroom door. He kept charging toward the front speaking in his loudest voice (he never yelled), “You’ve just earned yourself four swats mister.”
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind who he was talking to. All heads turned in my direction. I slunk down in my chair turning beet red. I knew my immediate fate.
I wasn’t really scared of Mr. Weishapl’s paddle – neatly sanded with four evenly spaced holes drilled to cut through the wind. Corporal punishment was a common practice in our school and in Mr. Weishapl’s class in particular. I was a regular participant.
Mr. Weishapl kept a record of how many swats he gave to each student over the course of the year. We were allowed to sign his paddle at year’s end in order of tallies, highest to lowest. I was easily one of the leaders. I knew my signature would be near the top. It turned the classroom penal system into a badge of honor.
Not fear but embarrassment is what caused me to slump in my chair. Mr. Weishapl’s loud reaction made me feel like I’d been caught with my hand in a cookie jar. Or, more likely, I was feeling betrayed by and guilty about those I had convinced to deliver the petitions. I knew I had shirked the most difficult task.
In retrospect, I imagine that is what made Mr. Weishapl angry. He could tolerate an occasional challenge to his authority. He had no patience for me or anyone else manipulating our classmates.
“Creighton,” Mr. Weishapl called boys only by their last name. “Front and Center!”
I walked slowly to the front of the room from my place in the back. The entire class was silent watching my progression. I reached Mr. Weishapl’s side and assumed the position without being asked.
What I wasn’t counting on is that Mr. Weishapl had misplaced his paddle.
He removed his belt. Four deliberately paced lashes to my hind quarters. It hurt as much as anything I remember including my broken bones.
I shuffled back to my seat head drooped eyes swelling with water. I was determined not to let a single tear drop. This was the game. Be tougher than the punishment. I knew if I made a sound I would be unable to control my pent up sobs.
I sat the rest of the day in silence shifting from one side of my butt to the other trying to ease the sting.
The playground decree was rescinded. Order had been restored. No one was in the mood to cross Mr. Weishapl but we had accomplished our objective. Girls and boys could play together again.
We were happy. He was happy. I was sore.
Mr. Weishapl treated me as if nothing had happened the next day. He never held a grudge. Once the appropriate measure of punishment had been delivered the issue was over for him.
I have nothing but affectionate memories of my year in Mr. Weishapl’s class. But I still remember the sting of that belt.
I learned important lessons that day; lessons I draw on even now.
You can stand up against real and perceived injustices but you may incur serious pain from your efforts. Go in with your eyes open.
And, if you’re going to be a ring leader, you must be prepared to walk on point at the moment of truth. There is no standing behind others.
If I had it all to do over again knowing the belt would follow… Yea, I think that I probably would.