Finally the day of the home opener came. The team had played two games on the road first and had shown real signs of improvement. In the first game against Kim Campbell the defence had done a good job in holding last year’s second best offence to just three touchdowns and Lane had managed to move the ball well and the Bengals had answered those three touchdowns with three of their own. In the end what cost them the game was a fumble in their own end late in the game which set up the winning field goal.
The next game was a heart breaker. They played the Sacre Coeur Crusaders. Like in the first game, the team started with a prayer circle. The players dutifully recited the words of wisdoms that Coach Ibrahimovich had prepared for them. He had made sure to remove all references to God or Allah and this time any mention of Jihad was removed as well. The irony of them reciting Muslims prayers before playing the Crusaders was lost on all, players and coaches alike. Padre O’Connor, the chaplain at Sacre Coeur, was surprised and a little bewildered to see a prayer circle from a publicly funded high school.
Soon after the game started the pleasant fall day turned into a meteorological nightmare. The skies darkened, wind increased to what weather men call gale force and rain started falling. Horizontally. Any hope of a passing attack was gone and even the ground game was very difficult. Both defences knowing that the pass was impossible, concentrated on stopping the run. Nobody could move the ball. With the score still 0-0 in the fourth quarter, the Crusaders were punting once again. The wind picked that particular time, with the ball in the air, to increase to what the weather men call hurricane force. Even though they had kicked it from their own side of half, the ball carried passed the goal line then passed the dead ball line for a single point. Try as they might, the Bengals could not answer. The final score of 1-0 sounded more like a soccer game.
Two games. Two loses. Even if the points difference was only -4, against Happy Valley things would have to be different.
Ryan had lost a lot of his innocence, but not his desire to fix things. The same enthusiasm that he brought to the fight to save the planet, he would bring to the fight to get rid of Potential Intelligence. He would just need a good game plan.
White and his lackeys and flunkies had told him in no uncertain words to be quiet. “Shut the fuck up” was how it was put. Still there was be a way to get around that order. He thought about it for weeks, even to the point of putting work on the overhead for his grade nine science classes to copy into their notes. While they quietly wrote, he brainstormed ideas. He could write letters to the local papers. Okay that wasn’t shutting up. Maybe he could write those letters and pretend to be somebody else. Like Barovsky, or Doyle. No, that was fraud or something. He could refuse to use PI. ‘Yeah, I’m going to Bunny right now and tell him I am not going to do this. Wait. Bunny’s not here today. I could… I could… I can’t shut the fuck up. They will just have to live with it. What are they going to do to me? Make me teach grade nine applied science. All those kids that don’t want to be there. I’m already doing that. Fire me? They don’t fire anybody. You have to molest a child to get fire. They can’t touch me.’
First offensive: a letter to the Granite City Times. No, an exposé to the Granite City Times. Who is Ken Smith and why he is ruining our schools? No, not eye catching enough Perceived Stupidity: The End of Western Civilization.
“Sir, we done copying. What should we do now?” said a girl from the front of the classroom. At the back of the classroom, the usual crowd had been throwing things out the windows for more than five minutes.
“Here’s a word search. Would you hand them out to the class, Aleisha.”
“Sure, sir. But I’m Chastity.”
Where was I? Ken Smith is a danger to your child.What you can do about it. Yeah let’s go with that. At home that night Ryan wrote a 5 000 word diatribe of Perceived Intelligence. He cited studies from as far away as Taiwan and Finland. He compared the Canadian school systems to schools good and bad. He had his point, proved his point, reinforced his point over and over and over again. He sent it off to the Granite City Times.
And he never heard back from them.
The weather was not going to be an excuse for losing this time. While the sun was not completely out-it was playing a game of peekaboo with the fans and the players, there was no rain and little wind. A larger than usual crowd had turned out to watch the Bengals take on the Happy Valley Vikings. The never-been-in-the-league-before Vikings. The-never-had-a-team -before-Viking. The-never-won-a-game Vikings.
It was going to be good. These guys had barely enough players to field a team. As it was most players had to play both defence and offence. The three girls from the synchronized swimming club had stuck it out and were dressed even if no one expected them to see the field. The guy with the club foot was there too. On the side lines he was practising kicking the ball off a tee and into a net.
The bus from Happy Valley had arrived late. When they did get there, most fans were already in their seats. The players were under strict orders not to make fun of their opposition. Any way they were busy praying when the bus arrived. The fans, on the other hand, were not at all hesitant about laughing at the Vikings. Unfortunately they lacked imagination and style.
“You suck!” “Where’s the rest of the team?” was the best they could do. Maybe it was because they weren’t used to being the ones taunting. In any other game they were the subjects of the taunts.
Warm ups, coin tosses and other formalities out of the way, the teams lined up for the opening kick off. Jordan White, who was also the kicker as well as being the middle linebacker, put the ball deep into the Vikings end. The kid who was supposed to run the ball back fumbled around with it and only got to the eleven-yard line before Jordan chasing his own kick stuffed him. The kid lay on the ground for a while but was able to continue. On the first play from scrimmage the Vikings ran up the middle for a couple of yards. On the second play the snap was fumbled. The Bengals recovered on the nine-yard line. Things had started just the way they were supposed to.
Unfortunately the two pass attempts were incomplete. But the field goal was good. After only a couple of minutes it was already 3-0 Bengals.
The Vikings chose to take the ball on the 35. They completed a pass for five yards, ran off-tackle for another four and gambled on third down. The Bengals were prepared to stop the one yard plunge. The Viking however faked the quarterback sneak, snapped the ball through his legs to the halfback who handed off to the wide receiver who ran an end around. Eleven of the twelve Bengals were completed fooled by the play. Fortunately Jordan White wasn’t. He eventually caught the ball carrier after a thirty yard gain. He hit him so hard the kid had to go off for a few plays.
They were now in Bengal territory.
The LBSS defence smarted up and managed to stop the Vikings at about the fifty. Head Coach Kidd sent on the punt return team. The Vikings Head Coach sent on the kid with the club foot and set up to kick a field goal.
Now with the seven or so yards that teams take in order to make sure the kick isn’t blocked, the ball would be placed beyond the 55 yard line which meant that the kick would come from the Vikings’ side of centre.
The punt returners were confused about where they should set up. They were on their 20, but Kidd signalled that they should stay where they were. There was no way this kick was going anyway near the goal posts.
The ball was snapped. The O-line was a bit shaky and Jordan came close to blocking it, but they got the kick off. The two kids on the 20 waiting to run the ball back got ready. They immediately realized that the ball was going farther than anyone anticipated.
Anyone on the Bengals that is.
What was at first a slow back pedal quietly into a full run. The ball was clearly going well past their heads. Past their heads and through the goal posts.
The reaction from the fans and the Bengal players was a combination of awl and fear. They had never seen a kick like that.
After one quarter it was 3 for the new look, bound for victory Bengals of Lord Byron and 3 for the hapless newbies from Happy Valley. Things were not going according to the script.
If the press wasn’t interested maybe the government would be. After all had Perceived Intelligence had not been approved by anyone at the Ministry. He started with his local MPP. Johnny Marre had represented the voters and the non voters of South Missachewopa for three terms. People pretty much knew what to expect from him and he knew what to expect from the voters. Ryan phone the local office. His secretary answered.
“Can I speak to Mr. Marre?”
“I’m sorry he’s not available.”
“When will he be available?”
So the next day when Ryan phoned it went:
“Can I speak to Mr. Marre?”
“I’m sorry he’s not available.”
“When will he be available?”
This continued for far too long. Ryan would phone and get the same answer and then phone again the next day. I suppose if the office of Mr. Marre was a more warm and fuzzy place, his secretary would have had the decency to say “next week” instead of “tomorrow”. But she didn’t. Finally Ryan asked why if Queen’s Park is not in session is he not at his office locally.
“He’s out in the riding.”
“What does that mean?”
“He is meeting constituents.”
“I’m a constituent.”
“Maybe he meet you someday.”
“I can’t tell you how helpful you’ve been.”
“You’re very welcome.”
Ryan would just have to go upstairs to the Ministry itself.
He went to the Minister’s website. There was a place to write questions to the Minister but after the disappointment with the Granite City Times he wasn’t sure if the written word was the way to go. Maybe he needed to talk directly to the Minister herself.
Edwina Mist had a fairly high profile. She had been Minister of several other things before her current role. And it was rumoured that she would be running for the leadership of the provincial party when the current Premier, Rushton Kappa stepped down. According to the pundits that was going to be sooner rather than later. Kappa was down in the polls and his hopes of re-election seemed faint.
After a lot of digging around, a few phone calls to friends from university, who had been Young Perpetuals and had gone on in the party and a bit of luck, he came up with the phone number to Minister’s office.
With his fingers trembling a bit he dialled the number and waited while the phone on the other end rang.
“Office of the Minister of Education. How may I direct this call?”
“Oh yes hello. I’d like to speak to the Minister, please.”
“And you are?”
“And who is Jason Ryan?”
“I’m a teacher at Lord Byron Secondary School.”
“Just a teacher?”
“And you want to talk to the Minister?”
“Yes, I do.”
To Ryan it seemed like five minutes of laughter that followed. When the voice on the other end finally stopped it said “Oh that was a good one. I haven’t laughed like that since the days of the Tories.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Why you were laughing.”
“The Minister doesn’t talk to teachers. If you have something to say, take it to your superiors. The Minister cannot talk directly to teachers. It muddles things up.”
“But things are seriously wrong in my school board.”
“Things are seriously wrong with all school boards. Put something in writing and send to the Minister.”
“And she’ll respond to it?”
“No, but it might make you feel better.’
“This is unbelievable.”
“Listen if you really want to change things, run for Trustee. They’re the people with the real power.”
No football coach is worth his salt if he can’t rant and rave. Head Coach Travis Kidd was worth the whole shaker. Practises were best described as long periods of physical exercise and even longer periods of verbal abuse. However sometimes you could say it was physical exercise followed by physical abuse. And sometimes it was just physical abuse. Fool around and you run hills. Screw up and you get a ball thrown at your head. Really screw up and have your gender identity questioned. But now in the locker room at half time he started with the silent treatment. Okay it wasn’t a locker room the teams stayed at the field and went to opposite end zones.
Given the proximity to the fans everything Travis Kidd said could be heard by the fans. They even heard the silence that started the half time talk. If was a silence filled by all the emotions, fears and desires that this game represented to the 0- for their high school career Bengals felt.
Forty-five players all with their helmets off and their left knee on the ground waiting, waiting for Head Coach Kidd to break the silence. Finally, there was a feeling of relief when he spoke.
“Ladies.” he barked then he paused. “That is the worse display of football that I have ever seen in all my years of coaching.” The feeling of relief was quickly replaced with a feeling of dread.
“If you want to be rhythmic gymnasts, be my guest. But I am here to win a football game and by God I am going to do that.” He paused again “Even if I have to run out on the field and do it myself. From now on there will be no more missed tackles. No more dropped balls. No more running the wrong pattern. We have not been working for months to lose to a team that can’t even use a toilet yet.”
Scottie Van Doornedorp had to fight the urge to say something about how he was pretty sure that they were potty-trained. But even Scottie isn’t that stupid.
The tone switched to one of motivation rather than vexation. “Look at the logo on your chests.” Above their numbers was a small tiger head. “You all are Lord Byron Bengals. You’re part of a long tradition. Remember that. Remember all the players who have come before you. Remember all the glory of past teams and accept your destiny. Now let’s go out there and be who we are.” A good speech. At least it was when he used it at Chevalier.
On to the field the players rushed ready to do their job. Happy Valley kicked off to them. The kid with the club foot booted the ball deep into the end zone where Stretch caught it. With the coaches all calling for him to go down on one knee, Stretch turned and started running down field. It was just too much to ask the kid to concentrate on catching the ball and listen to instructions from the side lines. The down field tacklers arrived and were so close to stuffing him. But Stretch had been put at kick off receiver for a reason. He was faster than anyone else on the team. He wasn’t very good at running patterns; he couldn’t tackle and he would get out of the way of tacklers rather than block. But he was fast.
So fast that he easily avoided any would-be tackler and made it out of the end zone. He gave a head fake to the one synchronized swimmer who got to play on kick offs and headed toward the sidelines. The Vikings had been too enthusiastic about making the tackle down field that no one stayed home just in case they were needed.
No one accept the kid with the club foot.
So the second half of the game between two hapless teams began with a show down between two unlikely heroes. Now the kid with the club foot had always known that if he was even going to have any success in sports it was going to be because of his brains and not his athletic ability. In house league soccer he soon figured out that his role was to stay near his own goal and clear the ball 50 yards down field any chance he got. He knew that if he pushed forward he would get caught up field and wouldn’t be able to get back in time.
When he saw Stretch head for the side lines he quickly calculated the angle he needed to take to intersect the trajectory of Stretch’s line. Slow as he was, as long as he got there before Stretch he could make the tackle. This is advance physics here as he needed to account for the difference in speed of the two objects. And his calculations found that the two lines would meet somewhere around the thirty yard line. The Vikings thirty yard line. That meant that he had to turn around and run toward his own goal line while Stretch was still on his own side of centre. On the surface it defied all logic; in reality it was brilliant. Anyone watching him would have thought that having kicked the ball he was returning to the bench. But no one was watching him.
They were all watching Stretch who was beating the Vikings one after another. He was going all the way. Or so everyone, including Stretch, thought. In fact Stretch was sure that he was on his way to scoring when the kid with the club foot got low and drove his shoulder into Stretch’s knee. It was more of a bump than a tackle but it did the job. Down went Stretch. The crowd all gasped and a collective “shit” was given off by the Bengal coaching staff. For their part the Viking bench went wild as the kid with the club foot came off the field. In fact, Fiona Lindenhauser, who was watching the game despite a rather large apathy toward the sport, thought the game had ended and the Vikings had won.
The happiness of Happy Valley was short lived. Even if he hadn’t scored, Stretch had given them excellent field position. Lane knew that their concentration would be lacking for a play or two. So he ran play action and went long to Scottie in the end zone who managed to hang on to the ball. Convert kicked. Score LBSS 10 HVHS 3.
“If you want to change things, run for Trustee.” That sentence spoke volumes about how much the Ministry of Education was out of touch. “Trustee” all sorts of people can run for Trustee. Eighteen year olds. Residents of mental institutions. Convicted criminals. But not teachers. If teachers were Trustees they would vote themselves outrageous pay increases. Lawyers regulate lawyers. Doctors regulate doctors, hell even investment bankers regulate investment bankers, well sort of. But here was the Ministry telling Ryan to run for Trustee. If only he could, he would sock it to the man. No more pulling the wool over the Trustees’ eyes. No more stupid BS like dogs in guidance, no more umpteen Supervising Principals without schools to be Principals of.
Ryan ran ideas over in his head for days. Days went by where his classes did nothing but copy into their notes or watch movies. Sometimes the movies had very little to do with science. Sometimes the movies had very little to do with anything.
At first it was just a vague notion. That it grew into a proper idea. He couldn’t be elected as a Trustee. But he could still run a election campaign. The fact that he couldn’t hold office might even help if it brought him more publicity.
The election wasn’t going to be until the fall of the next school year. Normally people don’t start campaigning until a month or two before. If they campaign at all. Some don’t have to. No one runs against them so they win by something called acclamation.
A full year before the election signs started appearing throughout South Missachewopa. Signs that said things like:
Vote Ryan.Even if they won’t let you.
A vote for Ryan. It’s a vote against Ed Smith.
When schools won’t fail our kids, they fail all of us.
0 plus 0 shouldn’t equal 50% Vote Ryan.
Ryan was smart enough not to use his full name. That way when the attack dogs that worked for Superintendent White went on the offensive, he could always claim that Ryan was a common name and it must be some other guy with a bone to pick with the school board. He imagined there must be quite a few in the category. But the attack dogs remained silent. Perhaps they hadn’t noticed or perhaps their attention was diverted.
Unfortunately the press didn’t notice either.
So after a couple of months of the sign campaign and a couple of thousand dollars spent, Ryan had to admit that he had very little to show for it.
There was no one about to admit defeat at what the other schools were calling the Loser Bowl. With a seven point lead and a quarter to go the Bengals of Lord Byron Secondary School were full of energy. They could smell blood. On the other hand the Vikings had never been so close to winning a game.
The third quarter had ended with a Bengals ball on the Vikings 35 yard line. One more score and they could count on this game showing up in the win column. Head Coach Travis Kidd felt they needed a little extra to push this game out of reach. So he called for a prayer session.
During the change over at the end of the third quarter, while the referees were changing ends the offence all dropped to one knee and following Lane’s lead recited the following. In keeping with board policy and to be sure not to offend Trustee Lindenhauser all references to God and Allah had been replaced.
“Football is great. Football is great.’
“Oh Football! Fill my request!”
“Hey, shouldn’t we be facing something?” asked Scottie in a moment of clarity.
“Yeah. That’s right. Let’s face the …” Lane looked around. “the goal posts.” He continued
“There is no Football, but Football and Football is the greatest.”
“Com’on Ladies. It’s time to play some football.” said Head Coach Kidd, who was worried about taking too long and pissing off the refs. “Bring it in and let’s have Knights on three.”
“Don’t you mean Bengals on three, Coach?” asked Scottie
“I said Bengals. Let’s have it, please. The refs are waiting.”
“One, two, three, Bengals.” came the cheer.
Whether it was because of the sanitized Muslim prayer or in spite of it, the Bengals took the ball and marched into the Vikings end zone. Bengals 17, Vikings 3 with 9.43 to play. From the insuring kick off the Vikings ran a fake double reverse which didn’t fool Jordan and the Vikings offence over on their 29 yard line. They managed a couple of first downs until they stalled on their own 52. once again they sent on their field goal unit. And the Bengals responded by putting Stretch on the ten. Off to one side hiding from the Bengals coaching staff and behind the kicker was the Vikings fastest runner. When the ball was snapped , the holder stood up and kicked the ball to the wide side of the field. The same side that the on side runner was on. The kick had enough height that the runner arrived in time to catch the ball in flight and race untouched into the end zone. It was a play never seen in North America. But one of the Vikings Coaches was an Australian on exchange for the year. For him it was a routine play in Rugby League. Bengals 17 Vikings 10 with 4:43 to go.
On the Viking bench there was a large argument about whether they should kick deep and hope the defence would hold them and get the ball back for their offence or kick short and hope to recover the ball. The proponents of the short on-side kick won out.. But with one concession; the kid with the club foot came on and lined up as if to kick the ball. He was on the right side of the ball. On the left side trying really hard to not look like she was about to kick the ball was one of the synchronized swimmers. A left-footed synchronized swimmer. With the whistle the kid with the club foot kick the turf beside the ball and the synchronized swimmer girl kick the ball for real; hard and low into the knees of Invisible.
Poor Invisible, who probably wished his name actually meant something, couldn’t get low enough, fast enough to snag the ball. It rebounded off his knees and into the arms of an on-coming Viking who had been instructed to do nothing but fall on the ball.
The Gods of Football appear to be fickle.
The Viking offence returned to the field and began to march down toward the Bengal end zone. With less than a minute to go they found themselves on the four yard line. First down goal to go. On first down they tried the double reverse again. It failed to fool Jordan who dropped the ball carrier for a lost. On second down they tried the double reverse yet again. Jordan assumed that they wouldn’t be so stupid to run the same play two times in roll, so he ignored the second hand off. He was certain it was a fake. He got to the ball carrier with his usual speed about the same time that the guy who actually had the ball was scoring. 17-16 with the convert to come.
What should the Viking coaching staff do? They could kick the convert and settle for the tie or go the riskier route and try a two-point conversion. Go big or go home they said and decided to go for the two points.
What they hadn’t considered was that they had really pissed Jordan White off. You know, ‘Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.’ Jordan wasn’t going to get fooled again.
From the five yard line they ran a draw play which meant that the quarterback drops back as if he is passing but hands the ball off to a running back. Again it fooled the entire Bengal defence except Jordan who got to the running back at the one. The ball carrier bounced off Jordan and dove for the line. Invisible, who had initially been knocked down and backwards into the end zone, was just regaining his feet managed to get a hold of the Viking running back long enough until others arrived to make the tackle. For a moment all action froze as everyone on both teams was waiting for the ruling on the field. Had he broken the plane of the goal line before being tackled? Where he was lying would indicate than he hadn’t. But it was his forward progress that counted. The two refs were stationed on the goal line, each hoping that the other would make the decision. Finally one of them waved his hands to indicate that the ball had not crossed the goal line and the other ref quickly mimicked his motion.
Bengals 17 Vikings 16 with 5 seconds left on the clock .
Would the Vikings try an on-side kick again. They had few other options. Again the kick off team lined up with the club foot kid on one side and the left-footed synchronized swimmer on the other. But this time Invisible was ready for the kick.
Only they didn’t kick it to Invisible.
The Bengals were all lined up ready to receive a short on-side kick. Only Stretch was back if the kick was long.
And the kick was long and a long way away from Stretch. Again the Vikings Coaches had put their really fast guy near the side lines where he raced toward the ball. Would Stretch, who had terrible hands and couldn’t tackle, make it there first? Or would the Viking speedy guy arrive in time to pick up the ball and race once again into the end zone.
Head Coach Kidd couldn’t tell. The Viking Head Coach couldn’t tell. From their seats in the scaffolding that passed for stands, Bunny or Doyle couldn’t tell. Lyndsey Baggott, who had started to see something she liked in the tall skinny kid who everyone just called Stretch, couldn’t tell who was going to get there first, but she was sure it was going to work out.
Optimism goes a long way. As the Viking fast guy bent down the ball bounced off his hands and towards Stretch, who, living up to his nickname, got down low and like a defender in soccer, hooked the ball away and out of bounds. It was a temporary solution as it meant that the Vikings would take over where the ball had gone out. But the clock had expired during the kick off. By the skin of their teeth the Bengals had won their first game in living memory.
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.