Where is the Kid With the Surfer Hair?

“Where is the kid with the surfer hair?”

They were talking about me.  Matt had just had his head shaved against his will, and the seniors wanted more.  They scoured the locker room, the weight room, and the student parking lot with shears in hand, and treachery in their hearts.  I hid.  I would say I cowered, but you don’t really have space to do that after having stuffed yourself in a locker.  I would have been ashamed if I didn’t know that Cowley was doing the exact same thing in the very next locker.

It was funny to me, even in that moment, that I was actually hiding in a locker.  I had seen this on TV but never thought it physically possible, nor a real life necessity.  Better yet was that the guy in the locker next to mine, weighed at least 260lbs.  I’m sure none of this would have happened in a normal world, but this was football.

The lockers we were in were specially designed to hold shoulder pads and all sorts of equipment.  We were in football lockers because we played football, and the Neanderthals outside were our teammates.  Our suburban high school was relatively small.  Sophomores, juniors, and seniors all practiced together; all one big team.  There were no official try-outs, and no cuts.  If you showed up, and lasted, you were counted as part of the team.  We were thrown together, young men and boys, and this alchemy produced a team; with a tall side order of terror.

This head shaving incident was not isolated.  The day before the “sophomore sheep shearing”, one of my classmates didn’t show up to practice.  It took a good 30 minutes before a trainer noticed him shrink wrapped to a goal post down at the main field.  At lunch time seniors would make us carry their trays, before practice they made us caddy their helmets, after practice they made us fear.

We did not shower post practice.  It was not out of prudish modesty but self preservation.  The first one to try showering returned to his locker to find his school clothes clogging up a toilet.  On one occasion, while we were all dressing, an upperclassman swung the wire mesh security gate shut, locking the twenty of us in our section.  Immediately afterwards, bins of water were poured through the gates, flooding us like a colony of gophers.

It wasn’t really that bad.  We all thought it was just part of the dues we paid to play.  As with any hostile force there were sympathizers amongst them.  Cole was a captain and the physical superior of everyone else on the team.  He would keep others in check, give us one of those knowing nods to reassure us that we weren’t really going to die, and kept things from getting out of hand, sort of.

He did not really control Chuck.  Chuck was the varsity quarterback.  Some would say he had a Napoleon complex, I would say he had a Genghis Khan complex.  He was the one with the clippers.

They did not find me or Cowley that day and I kept my hair.  They did find us later that week and we all enjoyed a “voluntary” leap into the glacier runoff up in the canyon on a hot summer day.  Possibly inspired by our trips up to the river, the coaches treated the whole team to a day at the community pool; a chance to cool off after a week of hot weathered and hot headed practices.  The seniors enjoyed a nice game of dunk the sophomore.  I enjoyed it as well; at least at first.

I did not dunk easily.  When Chuck tried I did not dunk at all.  I do not know if words were exchanged or how it all happened, but I do know it ended with me looking the quarterback in the eye while he was hauled off by three of his cohorts Cole included.  I just stood there bleeding from the lip, alone.

At the end of each practice it was our pleasure to run any number of 100 yard sprints.  Coach would yell out “sophomores”, and we would sprint.  He would yell “juniors”, and they would run, etc.  It was a time honored tradition that the sophs went first, seniors last.  This gave the upperclassmen the opportunity to run over or through any underclassmen who were loitering along the way.  One day I stood on the finish line, arms behind my head, desperately trying to regain my wind.  By some stroke of luck I saw Chuck just as he was lowering his shoulder, preparing to collapse my ribs.  I stepped aside.

My stepping aside had the same effect as Lucy’s pulling the ball right before Charlie Brown attempted his kick.  Expecting to hit me, he hit nothing, followed by hitting the ground.  I looked back over my shoulder as I started my next sprint.  Chuck was not pleased.

Chuck had one of those stares that television tries to portray with special effects.  The sort where he looks right at you and it is somehow obvious that he can see absolutely nothing else, except possibly the funeral of the one being looked at.  I saw this stare from 50 yards away and knew that stepping aside would do me no good this time around.  I squared up and took it.

This may have been even more of a surprise to my attacker than my previous move.  The net result was the same with me standing looking down on him as he lay in the grass.  On his third Kamikaze attack Chuck surprised me, and all of us, by veering last second and absolutely obliterating the sophomore standing next to me.  As the poor soul who thought he would only be a bystander lay in the fetal position, I called Chuck a name.  I used a word I would not repeat today and he heard it.

I did not have time to start the next sprint before he was on me and his classmates were on him.  They peeled him off and had my face not been protected by an iron roll bar, my lip would have once again been bleeding.

These sorts of actions do not win one friends.  I was a marked man and as such those closest to me in both emotion and age, could be found nowhere near me or they may suffer from peripheral violence.  I did not always win these contests.  There was a day in tackling drills where Blake decided I should spend the entire time prostrate.  Every time I attempted to rise he would promptly knock me down again.  There was the day I spent lined up in front of Vern.  He taught me every way an offensive lineman could hurt his opponent and not be caught by officials.  It was an object lesson I would not soon forget, nor soon stop feeling.

Over time this repeated pounding produced a respect and fear for my teammates that no opposing team could ever match.  I faced players from much better teams with much better bodies, but I was never afraid.  I recall looking forward to the day we played against others our own age as a welcome day of rest.  We were usually a bit less organized, as all our practice time was taken being cannon fodder for the varsity, but it was pure pleasure being the projectile for a change.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Where is the Kid With the Surfer Hair?

  1. And you talk so fondly of football. Did our parents know any of this was going on? I don’t think it’s just the parent in me that thinks this was just not right. ug.

  2. Brendan

    Please don’t soil Genghis’ good name! Our high-school QB could be a jerk (but not a sadist) at times so my buddy next to me on the O-line would give me a look and we’d let our opponents on the D-line through on purpose so our QB would get roughed up a bit (but only when we were winning by a wide margin). When our coach caught on to this after reviewing game film he ran us ’til we puked. It was worth it, of course. Your post made me want to join you in resisting your team’s torturers. Luckily we didn’t have to deal w/ that nonsense on our team. Take it easy, Dalyn.
    B.

  3. uglyblackjohn

    When I quit football to play water polo I had it even worse.
    Many thought I didn’t belong and they took every oppotunity to try to break me.
    But I lasted and made varsity as a freshman.
    I think I’ve been jumped into every school attended, neighborhood moved to or sport I’ve played.
    You win some and lose some but the bullies then focus on someone easier and weaker.
    After going through this one becomes a “Cole” (kind of protecting the weak but allowing them to grow through the process).
    IMOHO – We were better for having gone throught it. Today, too many boys are spoiled and pampered sissies who will not be able to handle tough times..

  4. Brendan, if we ever join forces the world will crumble before us.
    UBJ & Lyric, No our parents didn’t know (as in mine and Lyric’s. I have no idea if the other guys told moms and dads). Sure it sounds rough, but really, during practice, we wore pads. after practice… water, shrink wrap, shaved heads; none of those things are that big a deal. Back then no one was injuring anyone (split lips are not a real injury. Broken bones, ligaments, cuncussions… those are injuries). I probably remember it so fondly because I understood I did not have to endure the punishment, I could have quit. I wanted to play, and be part of the team enough to endure it. Having endured I knew better what I could handle.. and when to hide in a locker.

    When my class came of age, we didn’t act the same. We had already accepted many of the younger players and consequentially we were a better team. There was value in what I/we endured. I do not advocate terroristic hazing, its not in my nature. I am however an advocate of situational supervision; meaning some times you allow for discomfort… even meanness, in order to let kids sort it out. The coaches kept us safe, but let us learn our lessons. Sometimes the lessons you learn are that abusing each other may lead to anger and lack of team cohesion (losses), but we learned.

    It was 20 years ago and the lessons learned then still resonate with me.

  5. uglyblackjohn

    Yeah… I had a cousin who was small for his age and who was always sheltered.
    One day the kids from his block were slap fighting in the front yard.
    He lost and came crying back to his mother.
    “Ooooh, Baby…. Come here…”, she said.
    “Oh, hell no” I said and sent him back out to lose 13 fights in a row.
    The next day the same thing happened but he ended up winning half of his fights.
    The thing was – he wasn’t afraid to go outside anymore.
    He wasn’t picked on because they knew that he would fight back.
    As a young adult, he didn’t get into trouble becuase he had no need to prove his manhood to his peers.

  6. cc

    ubj and brohammas, i agree. Hazing (to some degree) is a crucible, and I feel that kids come out better by learning how to deal with bullies and the realization the world is sometimes not a nice place. I’m sure my wifey to be disagrees, and maybe I’ll change my mind when I have kids. But I hope not.

  7. To UBJ… careful the extent to which you insist on manhood and call those who don’t fight sissies: http://www.ted.com/talks/tony_porter_a_call_to_men.html

  8. uglyblackjohn

    @ Amber – Not at all. I was watching to make sure things didn’t get out of hand with my young cousin. He never had to fight but once he crossed that line he had to resolve the issue.

  9. HunterRider

    Wow…this brings back some memories! Though I think I may have been blind to the hazing….(I remember it well, just never thought of it as much more than tradition. Naive)

  10. Bryan Hadlock

    I don’t see #72 in your pictures.

  11. @Bruiser, Then you need to look a little closer at the huddle. “Why wouldn’t Cowley hold your hand?

    • Bryan Hadlock

      I love your drawing. Is that the X they put on linemen in little league? Too, much sappy stuff here.

      • Yup, My little league scarlet letter?
        Too sappy? No surprise coming from you. I think with these two comments you have already passed your verbal output for all of high school.

  12. Bryan

    Then I said too much. Love your stories.

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