The following is an excerpt from “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…” and one of the reasons that teachers live to teach. Should you wish to purchase a copy it can be purchased in book form or downloaded at the following link: goo.gl/dO1hcX
THE ANGRY YOUNG MAN
As a student, Leroy was no great shakes unless you compared him to a 1.0 earthquake. It would become apparent as time went on that he was a lot brighter than he was letting on but it would take several years for his intelligence to truly manifest itself. After telling him to complete an assignment and get back on task, he tore off a piece of tape, put it on the palm of his hand and said, “put this agin’ your ear and see if you can hear this tape telling you Hell No!” For creativity I would have to give it a ten. For stupid things to say to your teacher and coach, also I give it a ten. As a hush fell over the class, a flush of heat rushed from my feet to my ears. I calmly turned to the door and asked him to step outside with me. I was hoping that by taking time to walk out I would calm down. It didn’t work. When we got to the hallway, I turned and grabbed him by the throat while pushing him against a locker. In my mind I can clearly hear the hollow metal thud that the locker made, and the rattle of disturbed locks. I do not know what I said, which is not a good thing. From past history I would reason that I probably used the F word a lot and probably used it in ways it was never intended to be used. Luckily I came to my senses, realizing that not only had I picked him up off of the floor but that I was choking him. As I gazed upon his reddening face and into his saucer like eyes I decided that I probably should let him down and did. I was not proud of myself and for the next week cringed every time my classroom door opened. I fully expected the men in blue to show up to arrest me or Mr. Rhodes, my principal, to fire me. It did not happen and interestingly, Leroy’s brightness began to show a flicker of dim light. Please, I would like to make an observation to all budding young teachers; this is not a good motivational tool.
Leroy was also a baseball player of sorts. Two for four at the plate is great but as a career not so much. In the four years that I had him as a player he was able to complete just two of those seasons, his freshman year and his senior year. In between there was an issue with eligibility his junior year but before that, there was an issue with me and his anger his sophomore year. Small, quick and wiry, Leroy possessed a howitzer for an arm although, at times, it was somewhat inaccurate. As a freshman I used him as a pitcher, short stop and outfielder and he distinguished himself enough to make the varsity team his sophomore year. Unfortunately, Leroy had a huge hole in his swing. Anything that curved or bent avoided his bat as if it had some sort of perilous disease. My tiring of repeatedly saying, “Out in front and over the top” caused me to bench him in favor of another player. People on the bench have at the very least, two issues; one, they don’t like being there and want to play more. I understand this and really do not want a player that doesn’t want to play. Two, they do not like to chase foul balls. To a player chasing foul balls is demeaning. I agree with them that it is demeaning but I don’t care, it has to be done. Being Leroy, the anger kept building until finally he could not take it anymore. When I told him to “hop on” a foul ball he did not move even though I knew he had heard me. “Leroy, the ball will not grow legs and come back on its own.” His comeback was, “It’ll have to before I go pick it up!” My calmness surprised me. “Leroy, either get the ball or go get out of your uniform and don’t come back.” Unable to get past his anger you can guess which option he chose. I found his uniform hanging on the door knob of the athletic office. The ball did not return itself either.
Because I primarily taught freshmen, I saw very little of Leroy his junior year. Some would say this was a blessing and at the time I would have agreed. Due to his grade problems I did not have to deal with him during baseball season and did not expect him to come out his senior year. As usual I was incorrect. Like a bad penny, he kept turning up. What did I have to do to get rid of this kid? When I saw him sitting at a desk in the first organizational meeting of the year, my first thought was “You’re cut.” As the meeting came to a close, I noticed Leroy hanging back. As soon as everyone had exited, Leroy was at my elbow. “CaCaCaCoach Miller,” he stammered while looking at his shoes, “You don’t owe me anything but can I come out for baseball?” I was somewhat taken aback that he had even asked. “Why should I let you come out Leroy? We have not exactly Gee-Hawed.” Again looking at his feet Leroy finally looked up and said, “I’m not the same person. Can you give me a chance to prove it?” With “No way!” on the tip of my tongue I instead said sure. I am such an old softy. I did not totally lose my mind, I gave him quite a few parameters to adhere to and he did; to a Tee!
Leroy’s season was a good one for him on the worst team that I had at Riverside. He still had the hole in his swing but so did everyone else. In between innings I found him sitting next to me talking about the game that was in progress or cutting up with his best friend, David Brissey. He seemed to be less angry and much happier. At practice he was usually the first one out to the field and since he lived near my route home I began to taxi him home. In other words, I was seeing way too much of him. Seeing and participating in the turn around in Leroy’s personality helped make the season more successful than it really was. He was still an angry young man and at times gave in to the anger. Mostly he used his anger as a tool for success and for some reason Leroy had decided that I was responsible for that success.
As Leroy’s senior year drew to a close I found myself being invited to many different family functions, including graduation celebrations, graduation itself and an impromptu evening fishing expedition over spring break. As we sat in his grandpa’s old and beat up Jon boat Leroy told me that the best thing that ever happened to him was being jacked up against a locker and being kicked off of the baseball team. He had done some type of self-analysis his junior year and realized that he was headed down a long, bumpy and unhappy road if he did not change his ways. Not bad for a seventeen year old. It was as if he had become self-aware; then he dropped a bomb shell. He was going to go to college. I did not want to throw ice water on his dream but to myself I contemplated the likelihood of his success with the grades that I knew he had. They would not reflect the type of student usually pursued by institutes of higher learning. I am glad I didn’t and was once again was proven incorrect. Leroy took remedial and transfer courses. On a recommendation from me, he began his career at North Greenville University and if memory serves, somehow ended up at Furman University. If Furman were up north it would have been a member of the Ivy League and mentioned with Yale and Princeton. He not only ended up there, he graduated. Leroy traveled a little farther down his road and picked up a Masters Degree and even ended up teaching at the collegiate level for a while. I try not to wish bad things on good people but I fervently hope that he had a student that was just as big a hemorrhoid as he was. I also sincerely hope that if Leroy had such a student that the student turned out just as successful as Leroy did. Leroy, even though I’m not sure why, I consider you to be my biggest success story. Hope you are well!