The weekly Coaches’ meetings were moved to the bar at the Legion. For no particular reason. But when you’re the Head Coach of senior football you can get away with stuff. When you’re the Head Coach who’s been recruited away from another school, well, you can get away with anything. As long as you deliver, that is.
The bar at Legion 509 was the only place to drink in Byronville. Well, if you don’t count people’s decks, living rooms, docks, bedrooms and in the case of a few with,… shall we say …a healthy appetite for alcohol, the shower. Okay let’s say it was the only place in town with a liquor license. Even so it was a pretty dead place. Even the portrait of the Queen hanging above the shuffle board seemed bored. Most days you’d walk in and you’d be all by yourself. Old Norm would be behind the bar. And if you wanted conversation, it came down to a choice between talking to the Queen or waking Old Norm up.
Old Norm was called that because his son was also Norm. So the son was Young Norm and the father was Old Norm. Young Norm was in his fifties or so, Old Norm was considerably older. Being retired since before anyone could remember, tending the bar at the Legion was his way of keeping active. Sort of. Usually he would sit at a chair behind the bar and more often than not he would drift into a deep sleep. The story was he spent his nights at the retirement home in Happy Valley chasing skirts. But that might have just been a rumour. Most people didn’t want to disturb Old Norm so they’d just go behind the bar, get whatever it was that they wanted, leave the money in the till-Old Norm kept it open-and go back to their seats. Some of the nicer customers even left Old Norm a tip. It was an arrangement that seemed to work.
The several Coaches who made up the Coaching Staff of L.B.S.S. had all got their drinks and were ready to get down to it.
“Before we start,” started Head Coach Kidd “Did you all see the email from Bunny? We need to raise the profile of the team. We need to get some press coverage. Anybody have any connections with the local media?”
“I taught Mrs. Nothelfer who writes for the South Missachewopa Herald.” answered Coach Brock.
“Good. Get her in here and let’s start changing the public’s image of the team.” Kidd felt that there was no point in doing anything if nobody noticed you doing it.
“Alright, let’s start with the reports.” barked Coach Johnson, who wanted to get ‘this damn meeting’ over and get home. “Who’s first?” he asked as he looked around the table. “How about you, Jimbo?” Coach Jim “Jimbo” Taylor stood up and began to speak: “The O-line is looking real good this year. We have a lot of returning veterans. And I’m sure we can get the job done.” It was hard to say which stank more, the beer spilt over decades into the legion carpet or the insincerity in Jimbo’s voice. Maybe for other teams, having returning veterans was a good thing. But for the Byronville Bengals returning veterans meant another year of the same old shit.
At the other end of the table, Head Coach Travis Kidd nodded ever so slightly. It wasn’t clear to any of
the Coaches there if it was a nod of approval. “Thanks, Jimbo.” said the Head Coach “What about you, John Boy?” Receivers Coach Bill Johnson was always called John Boy. The present Coaching staff had forgotten why.
“Things are A-OK. The boys can slant, fade, hook…”
“But can they catch?” Barked Head Coach Kidd. It wasn’t meant as a joke. When the laughter died down Johnson tried to continue. He was interrupted a second time.
“Enough of this crap!” interjected Kidd. “We’re just spinning our wheels here. We need to make a bold move forward. We need to change the culture of losing. We need to shift the para…para…para..What’s the word?”
“Paradigm.” answered John Boy.
“How’s that spelled?” asked Coach Brock, also known as Moose.
“P-a-r-a-d-i-g-m.” answered John Boy.
“I would have spelled it p-a-r-a-d-i-m-e. Why is there a ‘g’ in it?” Above them the Queen continued to look unimpressed.
“Would you guys stop? Lemme start again. We need to stop spinning our wheels. We need to boldly move forward. We need to change the culture of losing. We need to shift the paradigm. We need God!”
“I beg your pardon.”
“That’s right . God. Like at all the successful NCAA teams. They’re always praying. Praying in the locker room before the game. Praying on the field. Hell, for all I know they’re praying in the shower It seems that God is on the side of every team in the Big Ten.”
“Not Notre Dame. Did you see them play State last week? Didn’t see where God cared if they won or not. They even tried a hail Mary, but State intercepted and ran it back for a touchdown. You’d think if
God was on any team’s side it would be Notre Dame”
“Why would God care who wins a football game?” Moose’s interjection was not welcomed by Head Coach Kidd. “He must care. Those NCAA programs play some serious ball. They won’t waste their time praying if it didn’t bring results.”
“But if he cared, wouldn’t the Saints win all the time?” Moose wouldn’t let it go.
“Good point.” said Jimbo
“Wait a minute. What if the Saints are playing the Cardinals? John Boy jumped in.
“Or the Padres?” added Jimbo.
“The Padres? Are you for real?”
“What’s wrong with the Padres?” Jimbo defended himself.
“The Padres are baseball.” answered John Boy with an air of contempt.
“Doesn’t God care about baseball?” countered Jimbo
“Nobody cares about baseball. Besides why would God care about a baseball team playing a football team?”
“Well, technically the Padres could be playing the Cardinals.” said Moose
“I bet he hates the Lions. Didn’t they used to feed Christians to the lions?”
“That was a long time ago. I don’t think God still cares.”
“Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!” Head Coach Kidd couldn’t take it any longer.” I don’t care if God cares or not! Just as long as this God thing works. We need some prayers. Anybody got any prayers?’
“Like, well you know. Prayers. Religious” he searched for the word “ religious poems.”
“No, they’re not poems.” said Jimbo.
“Yeah, they don’t rhyme.” added Moose.
“Well, what would’ya call them?” asked Head Coach Kidd.
“Religious, religious…sayings.” said John Boy
“Sayings’s a good word.” said Moose
“Okay, whatever we call them…you got any?”
“Well, I used to say ‘Now I lay me down to sleep.’ said Jimbo
“I mean tough prayers. Manly prayers. Football prayers. Somebody must have one.”
A chorus of ‘no’, ‘sorry’ ‘I don’t think so’ followed.
“What, don’t you ladies go to church?” Head Coach Kidd was getting frustrated.
“Not any more.” said of the three assistant Coaches.
“Never did.” said another.
“They closed my church a while ago. Apparently nobody was going.” said the third.
Kicking Coach Igor Ibrahimovich, who had been quiet up until now, spoke up. He had come to Byronville at the age of ten during the Bosnian war. The United Church had sponsored his family back when the church still had members. His mother was a Croat and his father a Bosnian Muslim. In Sarajevo his mother had been a doctor and his father a lawyer. Here in Canada both worked at Tim Hortons.
Iggy spoke up: “I’m a Muslim. Do you want one of ours?”
“God, no!” responded Head Coach Kidd. “”I meant a real Canadian prayer.”
“Maybe we could take one of Iggy’s and take the Muslim bits out.”
“That might work.”
“Good idea. Iggy, you and Moose get together and rework that Muslim thing until there’s no Muslim bits. While you’re at it take the God parts out too. There’s no point in offending anyone.”
“So you want a prayer without any reference to God?”
“Maybe we could substitute something else for God”
“I dunno. Victory? Glory? Something.”
“Keep the stuff about winning and giving a hundred and ten percent. You know blood, sweat and tears and all that. And have it ready for next week. We’re playing the Crusaders. Our boys are going to need a lot of help”
“I’m going to need a beer.” said Iggy. Above the shuffle board, the Queen looked away.
Ryan walked into the staffroom in a huff. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”
“Time to change girlfriends then.” intoned Roberts who always thought he was funnier than he was.
“What don’t you get?” asked a more sympathetic Mrs. Templeton.
“Kids. They’re all enthusiastic about the environment when they’re in class. But when it comes time to put your money where you’re mouth is, they bail.”
“What do you mean?”
“I called a meeting of the environmental club and nobody showed up.”
“We have an environmental club?” asked Roberts
“No, but I was trying to start one. Those same kids when they’re in public school do everything they can to help the environment. Why do they stop when they get to high school.” It was true. Go into any public school and you will find all sorts of wonderful recycling programs. But high school is a different matter.
“Kids in high school have a lot more pressure. They have to be popular; they have to be cool; they have to fit in. You make the environment cool and you’ve got it made. But if the club is full of nerds and geeks, and you’ll never get the cool kids.” Mrs. Templeton spoke with great authority.
“How do I get the cool kids?”
“Well for one thing don’t try to be cool. A teacher, even one just out of school like you, has no idea what is currently cool. Remember when Perkins tried being one of them, Boris?”
“Do I remember? I remember we were all embarrassed by him. When he started here he told all the kids to call with Ed.”
“Yeah, and before long they started calling him Mr Ed.”
“Who’s telling this story, Vera?” sometimes Barovsky and Mrs. T sounded like an old married couple.
“What’s wrong with being called Mr. Ed?”
“Oh you are young, aren’t you? Mr. Ed was a talking horse.”
“A talking horse?”
“A sixties sit com.”
“Oh, I see.
“He wore tie-dye and flowered bell-bottoms. They might have been cool when he was in school, but they were definitely passé by the time he got in front of a class.”
“And he started telling them to use their real language in class. You know, things like rad and grotty tothe max and a bunch of things that nobody ever really said. Well that didn’t last long. Pretty soon he went from trying to be warm and fuzzy to mean and surly.”
“And he’s still pretty surly today.”
“King of conspiracies.”
“Master of machination.”
“Hey, I’ll bet he sees a snake in every grass.” said Barovsky.
“A stalker behind every bush” said Mrs. T.
“A chicken in every pot.” said Roberts.
“What?” said the two senior teachers simultaneously
Roberts looked sheepishly around then said: “I don’t know what that means. It just something my grandmother always says.”
“To get back to the question at hand, if you want kids to come out to meetings, you need to do two things. You need to get a couple of leaders on side from the beginning, they’ll bring others and you need to feed them.”
“Feed them. They’re teenagers. But they might as well be trained seals. Get them to do a trick and then throw them a fish.”
It was a beautiful early fall kind of day. The hills that surrounded the school and the football field were bathed in sunlight. The leaves on the trees which covered those hills had started to change into their fall outfits. A slight wind was darting playfully through the leaves. It was almost a serene moment. The junior football team was gone for an exhibition game against a team from the big city. The field hockey girls had their own exhibition at home against Chevalier. Today they weren’t wearing the frumpy track suits they normally wore for practise. They were wearing their kilts. Strangely the senior boys were not allowing themselves to be distracted by these skirts. Instead they were gathered in circles, all kneeling, facing inwardly. They were busy learning their new ‘prayers.’
“My loud voice is not proof of the depth of my knowledge.” Coach Johnson especially liked to hear Scottie recite that one. “An empty pot makes more noise when you hit it than a full one.”
“They are four things which do not come back: the spoken word, the shot arrow, the past life and the lost opportunity.” “If I am good, I will be better,” “I am hard on myself, easy on others.”, “The heaviest burden is placed on those who can carry the weight.”
The Herold reporter, Mrs. Nothelfer, arrived notepad in hand; camera on shoulder. “Mr. Brock, it certainly has been a long time. Still coaching, I see. And what is it that you wanted to show me?”
“We have a new look football squad. The losing teams of the past are history. This season we have a dedicated group of team players working toward one common goal: the success of the team.”
“How would you define success this year, Coach? Winning the county? Making the playoffs? What, for example, was your record last year?”
He answered sheepishly: “0 and 6.”
“So should I put down ‘winning a game’?” Mrs. Nothelfer was a nice enough lady, but she hadn’t really like Coach Brock as a teacher.
“No, we are aiming at the county championship and even beyond.” Coach Brock knew whatever he said would get back to Head Coach Kidd.
“How can you go from 0 and 6 to winning a county championship?” she paused “Realistically?”
“We are a whole new team. We’ve got a new look, a new plan, a new leader and a bunch of returning veterans.”
“So you’re a new team with the same old players?”
“You’re twisting my words.”
“No, not at all. Just prove to me that things will be different. A lot of my readers are big fans of high school football and they are very tired of losing season after losing season.”
Coach Brock nervously looked around while he thought of something else to say. The boys were still on one knee reciting the pearls of wisdom that had been passed to them by Coach Ibrahimovich.
“The boys have found God.”
“Oh, yeah. Have a listen.” And he invited her to move closer to the kneeling players.
“Today is mine. I will not waste it”
“The most excellent Jihad is that for the conquest of the self.”
“I don’t know if I would use that last one. The word Jihad scares a lot of people.” she said. “If I were you. How about a picture?”
“Sure, when will this be in the paper?” he asked as he posed for the camera.
“No, sorry. I meant of the team at prayer.”
Ryan planned the second meeting of the environmental club for a couple of weeks. He needed to pick the right food to attract students to his crusade. A barbecue with hot dogs and hamburgers would attract a big crowd, but red meat caused all sorts of environmental problems. The amazonian rainforest was being raped so that cattle could graze where once mighty trees stood. Strictly speaking, tofu would be the best choice. But these were country kids, tofu would scare half of them away. He could do giant pots of whole wheat spaghetti. But without the use of the kitchen, spaghetti would be complicated to say nothing about messy. Submarine sandwiches would be popular but they carried the subtext of support for war at sea. Perhaps he needed a little subterfuge instead of submarines. He’d do the barbecue but the burgers would be veggie and the dogs tofu. With recent improvements in vegetarian cuisine and enough condiments no one would be the wiser. Now it was just a question of finding the money to pay for it.
He went to Vice-Principal Doyle to ask his advice. It turned out to be a smart move. Doyle acknowledged that it was an honourable idea but also one that Bunny would never support. Unless he couched it in terms of something Bunny liked. And what did Bunny like? Football. He could tell Bunny it was for a pre-game meal for the team. But that would be a lie. He could tell Bunny it was for a fan rally and those fans could also be environmental club members. That might work. Doyle suggested just going ahead and order the food and give the bill to Bunny. If Bunny questioned it, tell him that he had approved it last month and asked if he didn’t remember. Chances were good that Bunny wouldn’t question anything.
So the day was picked; the food was ordered and announcements were made. Come to the first meeting slash Barbecue of the environmental club. Free burgers and hot dogs and free exchange of ideas. Ryan ignored the fact that this was actually the second meeting of the environment club. He justified that little lie by claiming to himself that the first one didn’t count because there was no one there.
Now any preacher with a soup kitchen knows that you give the sermon before you feed them the soup. It’s not complicated. But I guess human psychology wasn’t a required course in the environmental studies program that Ryan had completed. It never occurred to him that he had to give his little environmental talk before he handed out the burgers. His naïveté is somewhat refreshing, but only somewhat. 79 kids showed up for the free food, including ones like Kieran Van Hoven and Scottie Van Doornedorp both of whom wouldn’t have an environmental bone between them. 2 kids stayed for the meeting. Poor Ryan. Someone was going to have to tell him.
Hilda Beauregard was only too happy to see the coverage of the Bengals at prayer in the latest edition of the South Missachewopa News. As the president of the local chapter of the Fundamentalist League of Christian Voters, she was concerned about the lack of Christianity in schools. She phoned all concerned to congratulate them on having the courage to bring God back to public schools. Head Coach Kidd accepted her kind words and invited her to attend the home opener. And yes, they expected their sincere faith in God would manifest itself on the score board. She reached Principal Bunny by phone, which in itself should be considered some kind of miracle. He didn’t know what she was talking about. But he was used to that and quite good at playing along without giving anything away. Mrs. Beauregard also reached Trustee Lindenhauser. Hilda Beauregard and Fiona Lindenhauser had a lot in common. At least in appearance. Both had greying hair which they wore in a bun. Both wore long skirts and practical shoes. Philosophically both believed passionately that they were right and others who felt differently were wrong. Unforgivably wrong. The only thing that separated the two women was what they believed about God. For Hilda Beauregard God was the centre of the universe, the alpha and omega, the source of all that was good in the world. For Fiona Lindenhauser God was a human construct, a reason to not accept responsibility for our lives, a crutch that weak people used. Like Principal Bunny she had no idea about prayers and the football team. Unlike Principal Bunny she had no desire to play along. God had no business with the football team or any other part of the school and she was going to get to the bottom of this. She was going to call Chairperson Loveless, Director of Education Crapaud and Superintendent White and get God the hell out of Byronville. She phoned the Trinity of Education Administration and they all phoned Bunny, one after the other. Bunny in turn called Head Coach Kidd into his office. He had to make a special trip to the school that day and missed the better part of the Skater Nation conference in Montreal. Now that was a sacrifice because conferences in Montreal are not to be passed over easily. Head Coach Kidd was able in say that there was no God. At least not on his football team. There was also no Christianity involved. Just a few inspirational messages before commencing the struggle, was all that was being said. It was a necessary part of the rebuilding program. Bunny was satisfied and phoned Loveless, Crapaud and White, who in turned all phoned Lindenhauser. Everyone was happy. Everyone except Trustee Fiona Lindenhauser.
“I still don’t get it.” said Ryan as he walked into the staffroom after the barbecue.
“I told you; you gotta change girlfriends.” Roberts wasn’t any funnier the second time around.
“What do I have to do to get them interested in the environment? I fed 79 of them and once the food was gone so were they. It wasn’t like that was I was in high school. We were more engaged in politics, more aware of the world around us, more mature.” Mrs. T looked up from her marking and smiled.
“I blame the system.” said Perkins. “How can we expect maturity from the students if we don’t expect it from them.”
“What?” said the others, even Roberts.
“I mean look at the evaluation policy that the province forces on us. Johnny hands something in late: no marks off. Anita cheaps on a test: let her do it again. Freddy skips a lab: let him come in at lunch and make it up. There are never any consequences for their behaviour. No wonder they never grow up. If the Chinese were trying to destroy our education system they couldn’t do a better job than the current government.” Once Perkins got going it was hard to stop him.
“I don’t remember it being like this when I was in high school and that wasn’t that long ago.” said a still naive Ryan.
Mrs. T put down her marking pencil and cleared her voice: “It’s that damned Rushton Kappa, the education premier -she made quotation marks with her fingers- and his hatchet girl Edwina Mist. The Perpetual Party is trying to say they are better than the Progressive Resisters because there are fewer failures. There are fewer failures because they keep lowering expectations. That’s all. They would do anything to education in order to get reelected and they don’t give a damn about the consequences. First they make us separate behaviour from academic performance, so we can’t take marks off for just about anything. I mean really, where in the real world do deadlines not matter? Or maybe we should apply the same logic -again she made the quotation marks with her fingers-to teaching. Deadlines don’t matter, so I’m sorry class but today’s lesson will be ready tomorrow; I didn’t feel like prepping last night, so just talk amongst yourselves, yeah, right. This is no conspiracy theory of Perkins. This is real.”
“Do you think they know what they’ve done to education?” asked Ryan.
“I don’t think they care. To get reelected they would do anything and to hell with the consequences.”
“Surely, we can do something. Surely, if we only made them see what’s happening.”
“Go ahead and write them a letter and see what happens.” said Mrs T.
“The only strategy that works in any way, shape or form is to go to the Legion and get good and drunk. Come on. I’m buying.” said Perkins.
“Shouldn’t you wait until the end of the school day?”
“I suppose that would be the professional thing to do.” said Perkins regretting that he still had a class to teach.
Trustee Lindenhauser still had to be converted. She had to see for herself. So one day after school she showed up at the field to see what was really going on. The football teams had to confine their practises to the end zones. The field hockey girls were playing another exhibition game. The idea of sharing a football field with a field hockey team was wrong, clearly wrong thought Head Coach Kidd. Schools had to have priorities. Football was a sport. Field hockey, well it couldn’t be a sport. You don’t wear skirts while playing a sport. Not a real one anyway. That line of thinking almost brought him in line with Trustee Lindenhauser. The field hockey girls’ skirts were a problem for her too. Once she saw the girls in their kilts, she forgot all about the God problem. She had Principal Bunny on speed dial and interrupted his enjoyment of the Board sponsored Asbestos and You in-service. She gave him five minutes of the best woman’s liberation diatribes, which was totally unnecessary, as he was ready to submit after only a minute. The end result was that the kilts would be gone just as soon as he could buy a team set of shorts and don’t worry he would find the money somewhere, maybe from the textbook budget.