When I was in 7th grade and playing basketball, an incident arose that slapped me with a nickname that stuck for a while. This is my defense of that incident.
We were playing at Salem. Back in the time before McCook Central when their games were played in the Armory gym. It was a fairly decent gym to play in. All the bleachers were on one side of the gymnasium so they went up further than we were used to seeing at the little gyms of most schools. The teams' benches were across from the crowd and as the crowd looked at the court, Garretson's bench was the one on the left.
I wasn't sure in my memory banks if this incident happened when we were in 7th grade or in 8th grade. I was pretty sure it was 8th grade, but then I remembered that there was a cheerleader from Salem that we all thought was cute. I distinctly remember that she was older than me and that I wanted to impress her. This was a recurring theme in my thought process in my formative years of 7th grade through college and beyond.
We had a pretty good team. We always seemed to put a pretty good team on the field in any sport. We had a very athletic team and if we had worked at it a bit harder, we probably could've gone to state but we were always just on the cusp of qualifying. We always ran into tough competition in a very difficult region and in our class of basketball, only one team from each region made it to state. I'll save other stories of those challenges for another time. This was our formative years in junior high. Our shooting skills were developing, our ball-handling skills were developing, our communication skills were developing.... our basic basketball rules were developing. This last point is important.
The 7th grade game was always played before the 8th grade game. Coach Sylliaasen was the coach for both the 7th and the 8th grade teams. How he kept us all in line, I'll never know. Both teams and the cheerleaders bussed to all the games at the same time and I don't remember another teacher or chaperone coming along, but MAYBE Mrs. Garry did for the cheerleaders. I'm not sure. Maybe somebody can verify that to me... either way, Coach had his hands full with a couple dozen 12-14 year-old boys.
We suited up immediately upon arrival. The eighth grade boys went and sat on the bleacher and flirted with the cheerleaders and acted like they were watching our game. The 7th graders came out and warmed up... layup drills, shoot around and free throws. Then finally we'd start. Back in 7th grade our starting 5 was usually made up of Loren Vandeberg, Craig Albers, Craig Hillestad, Bruce Vollan and myself. Rodney Kasma would be in there from time to time as well, if I remember correctly.
We were a team that won most of our games at this level and this game was no different. By the end of the first half we were winning and feeling pretty good about our performance as we trotted into the locker room for a pep talk and quick rest. My life was still normal up to this point. I put in my solid few points (as usual) and I was feeling confident that I'd put in a few more in the second half (as usual).
This is where the events get sketchy. We came out of the locker room and warmed up much like we did in the first half. The details of this phase of the story are important. We came out at warmed up on the same basket that we used for the first half. We're supposed to switch baskets. But we didn't we used the same basket. I remember thinking that this was odd, but not impossible. What did I know... I was a fricking 7th grader... there MUST be a reason for the adults to make us do this. Whatever. I'm going with it.
So at the end of warmups I'm thinking, "ok, same basket. Got it." Then we come out for the second half jump-ball and the person making the jump faces THEIR own basket. Bruce came out and the refs had them face their baskets. But now Bruce is facing the OTHER basket, not the one we warmed up on. So now I'm confused a bit. But I'm going with it mentally... in my head, I'm like 'ok, I guess it's now THIS basket... the one behind me'.
The referee throws the ball up and Bruce skies for the ball and easily tips it right back to me. In my view, he's hitting the ball directly towards OUR basket and I'm the only one back here. It's my lucky moment.... if I could slam dunk in my life (ever) THIS would've been a great moment for the most kick ass slam dunk ever. That 8th grade cheerleader would've been like "who's THAT guy?"... I saw this all happening in my next few seconds. What did happen was I made the easiest layup I'd ever made. I was still proud of myself. Our lead went up by two points. I added to my stats. Rock on. Then I turned around after making the layup.
My entire team was sulking, their heads either held with chins up in frustration or hanging in embarressment. Both benches were laughing... their players clapping for me. One player patted me on my back. Coach had his hands tangled in his hair as he tussled it and stared at the ground. I tried to briefly plead my case to the ref then to the guys on the team but the points were added to the home score and not ours. I had to throw the ball in right away to one of the Craigs to bring the ball up. I continued to apologize and plead my case. They just shrugged me off and said "I got this... let's go". Play continued. But I know I was right.
I dreaded the first time-out after that. I knew what Coach was going say, what he was going to do, how he'd look at me. And I was right. I also got plenty of attitude from my fellow teammates including the bench players that continued to giggle at me and what I had done. Coach first coined the nickname for me at this time and said to the Craigs, "You guys bring it up, Wrongway, you go down and post up".
So "Wrongway" it would be, at least for a while. A few more games... a couple of years probably. We won this game. I learned to thicken my skin. I was probably blushing for a few days. That 8th grade cheerleader must not have been impressed with my layup... or my blush. I got over it. I never did it again... I made sure of that. I do remember that through all my games through all of my years of playing basketball, at the start of the second half, I always clarified with Craig Albers or Bruce or Loren which basket was our's as play started again. I'd point to the basket that I was sure was our's and then wait for the reaffirming nod. It was half joking and half serious as I know to this day that I was right, but I learned that I better check... just in case everybody else once again decided to play the wrong baskets.
Squirrel #1 & Squirrel #2
A lot of the next things I write are going to have to be fact-checked and substantiated by others, but this is the things that I remember. I think I just wrote the forward to my book.
Coach Sylliaasen taught math to the 7th and 8th graders at Garretson. People seemed to know him best for his coaching cross country and track. His intensity at the meets was unparalleled by any other coaches, he'd often run further at a cross country meet than the athletes, I think. He was known for his effectiveness and spirit. His oxymoronic screaming of "RELAX" seemed to be anything but relaxing, but he was always there on the course where he needed to be. "Catch that guy" or "Go NOW" were phrases we needed to hear at moments when we were lagging or falling back. He kept giving us a task or a goal when we needed it most.
He also coached 7th and 8th grade basketball. But other than the time I scored a basket for the other team, I don't have much to say about that. (I'll save that for another story... I have a legitimate defense!)
But my primary concern right now is Coach's classroom. His lesson often hustled through lesson after lesson at breakneck pace. But having grown up around Coach since my younger days playing with his sons, Brad (who was a year younger than Matthew) and Tim (who was a few years younger than me), I was always very comfortable around him and always felt I could get away with more in HIS classroom than in any others. This didn't always go over so good with Coach.
I was (and AM) very chatty and would often talk in the classroom to the point of getting in trouble for not listening. For a while in school, they used a name on the chalk board and checkmark discipline system and I think my name was on every teacher's board. (After you got a checkmark or two, you'd get detention... I only got it a few times, so I did HAVE some self-control, but often I didn't practice it.)
In Coach's classroom, I think I had my name on the board every day. He did his best to separate me from those that would instigate my chattiness... often it was Peter Caffrey, sometimes, I think it was Mary Koens. He would put me in a desk up in the front of the classroom in the corner and the other chatty person would get a desk in the other front corner. They were reserved seats for Squirrel #1 and Squirrel #2. I would proudly take my place in my little throne. Many times, I was just trying to be the class clown and by putting me up front, Coach was just giving me a stage. I seem to remember the desks for the squirrels eventually were next to him on either side of his desk facing forward to discourage any interaction with others and clowning around.
Coach's chalkboard, besides being used for names and checkmarks, was also used by students working through problems when we'd be in the middle of a lesson. When Coach was lecturing and going through a lesson, he'd use the overhead projector. He would project the screen onto a white pulldown screen that was retractable up into it's metal case mounted at the top of the chalk board. When pulled down, it was held in place with a loop of a rope on a nail or hook or something. I'm sure that early on in Coach's teaching days, the hold-down rope wasn't used but that after an unforeseen and unpredictable immediate retraction of the screen, Coach probably developed his back-up anchor system.
When using the projector, you need to write on a clear piece of plastic. The problem is, if you used one sheet at a time, you'd need to hold it down while you wrote... plus the sheet would fill up immediately and often later parts of a series of mathematical lessons would need to refer back to an earlier part. Finding the sheet that had the part you were looking for would be very difficult if not impossible to find that part. So Coach used a scrolling clear piece of plastic. It was just a long piece of plastic that went from one spool then across the projection screen area then to a receiving roll. Each had a little handle on them for spooling the film in either direction. If Coach had to refer back to some part earlier in the lesson, he could just scroll the film back. Then scrolling back forward again to new clean film he could continue where he had just left off. This was all done with blue or green or sometimes red dry-erase markers, so that when the scroll was all filled and he was sure that everybody had the lessons down, he could go back and erase the entire scroll blank again.
Coach didn't have the best of handwriting, but it was legible and we "got it". But sometimes, we'd need to ask verification is what he wrote was a 1 or a 7, or a 5 or a S, Things like that. But not a big deal. We got it. He made math fun. His preparation for us for upper levels of math (trigonometry and calculus and such) were very helpful, and I remember even in high school that I was able to go to him and ask him for help with whatever we were working on. I knew that his explanation style and temperment was easier to deal with that going to Mr. Olinger, who would come off as a little, umm... intense at times. We often avoided spending more time with Mr. Olinger than we needed to. Don't get me wrong, we enjoyed his classes, but there were times. (If you didn't get Mr. Olinger's sense of humor wasn't everybody's cup of tea... if you got it, you got it... if you didn't, you were lost and probably didn't like his class).
Back to Coach and his scrolling overhead projector. Every day, we knew Coach would do a few scrolling-forwards-worth of lessons. One day, Coach was late getting to class. We never knew where they were, they were just not there. We always just assumed there was a big teacher party going on in the smoke filled teacher's lounge down by the old gym. Some sort of party where they all talked about the bad kids and schemed up plans make our lives hell. Realistically, he was probably just going to the bathroom, but we always assumed the worst. But before he got back to the classroom, Jay Schleuter, went up to the projector and scrolled the clear film ahead a page or two and with a permanent marker wrote the words "Coach is a roach" then scrolled it back.
Fast forward to the middle of our lesson that day and as Coach frantically wrote and talked he scrolled ahead a few times and at some point he was mid-sentence when he scrolled ahead again, stopped (clearly he saw the words) he turned and saw them on the screen, he licked his thumb and tried to quickly swipe the words off. The giggles of the class turned quickly to laughs as the words didn't come off and he tried again to no avail and finally sighed and scrolled the screen further ahead. He let the laughing die down, he eyeballed the classroom to see if the guilty party was maybe laughing louder than the others, but we all laughed terribly loud. There was no clear culprit.
I'm sure he figured it was Squirrel #1 or maybe Squirrel #2. How wrong he was... or was he?
Junior High Dances
The time had finally come for my classmates and I to have a proper "dance" at school. The Junior High had traditionally (at least for a couple years before us) held a couple dances per year for the 7th and 8th grade (One in the fall and then one around Valentine's Day). They were held in the cafeteria which was the room just north of the gymnasium. It was also the concession "hang out" area during half-times of basketball games and other events. It was a wide and white room. The white ceiling tiles echoed the white tile floor.
During lunch there were three long rows of end to end tables. I don't remember any particular order to who would sit where, but the teacher's table was the area closest to the dishwashing/tray scraping area. Once in a while, there'd be a student in their midst... I think as a punishment, but I'm not sure of that.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.