School Sports Memories
The coach is an English teacher. In English class we are told to use complete sentences and avoid slang. Curses will earn you a demerit. Out here on the field Coach is taunting each twelve-year-old hitter as he comes to the plate. “Feel the breeze, the breeze,” he says when the usuals strike out. The heavy hitters, he likes. “Outstanding” he says as they sail them out into left field. I am hiding along the line in right, safe because there are few lefthanded hitters. Then a string of lefties comes up and each one punches one in my direction. I hold my glove up against the sun, thinking about how I was praised in class for a short story I’d written. But when the balls drop onto the ground all I hear from the English teacher is “Greenberg, catch the fucking ball.”
In winter time I decide to flee the high school team and join a low-level town league for the hockey season. The coach is also a teacher of some kind though I’m not sure where he teaches. All I know is that unlike in school I’m allowed to play. I skate, I shoot, I miss. But I am enjoying the freedom of being one of the people generally called athletes. We do surprisingly well and draw a seed in the post-season tournament. The starting roster is presented. I am not on it. When it comes time for what would be my usual line to take the ice, another forward from another line is skating in my place. “Coach, could I get some ice time?” I ask finally. “What are you talking about Greenberg. It’s the playoffs!”
Springtime again and the sport of choice is lacrosse. In spite being encouraged to bow out during tryouts, I am now a high school senior and the rules state that I can’t be cut from the team. I hold firm and decide to play out the season with my friends. Over time I earn a grudging respect from the math teacher who coaches the defensive squad. In the two-against-one drills I always choose the middle position — the one that gets crushed between two attack men from either side when the coach rolls out the ball. We reach the end of our season and face our arch rivals, a team from a school suspiciously close to New York City. “All right I want you guys to kick some serious ass out there,” the defense-coach/math-teacher tells us as he rallies us in the pre-game. “You know why? Because these guys are a bunch of fucking Jews.” The the defense-coach/math-teacher catches my eye and I see in his eye the fear of an impending firing.
“What I mean is, these guys are asshole Jews,” he explains. “You, Greenberg, you’re a cool Jew.”