the Betrayal of Youth


We spent most of the night filling up water balloons. Image

Trent was the quarterback of the sophomore football team, lived about a block away, and was having a backyard party. Normally we would spend Friday night looking for girls-

but they were all at Trent’s party.

He was a year older than us, and no matter how cool you are, you can’t compete with that.Image

As we left my house and rounded the corner a Jeep came screeching to a halt, spilling out its human contents. “Where do you guys think you’re going?” the voice asked from behind the headlights.

It was the Seville brothers;



We could not hide our intentions, our cargo was conspicuous. What I saw next was so inspiring that all these years later I can still picture it, in slow motion of course. One of the Sevilles took a balloon from Johnny’s hand, hopped back up into the back of the Jeep, and proceeded to send said balloon 100 yards down the street from a launcher mounted on the roll bar. I’m sure the brass at the pentagon felt the same way on the stealth’s maiden flight, a mix of awe and giddiness.

We resumed our advance with new confidence. Our numbers were increased and our allies were obviously superior.

The sound of late summer fun could be heard on the other side of the fence as we all took up position. The signal was given and latex grenades took flight up over the roof, over the fence, and out of the best assault vehicle a suburban kid had ever seen. The advantage of balloons over artillery is that there is no loud boom, nor in-flight whistle to warn the targeted of impending doom; just sweet silence.

We could actually hear the first splash, followed by high pitched screams, and low voiced curses.


The plan was to run back to my house; fast.

It started out well but as we turned to bolt, the Sevilles turned on us. They were behind us, still had extra balloons, and shouted, “there they are,” pointing at us. We were trapped. Sophomores from the party in front of us, seniors behind us, time for plan B, the suburban scatter.

It is standard that when being pursued in a residential neighborhood you hop a fence and make your escape through back yards, trusting that you will regroup later. Every man for himself.

Proverbial wisdom says that when being chased by a bear you don’t have to be fast, you just have to be faster than the next guy.

I have never been fast nor have I ever been faster than the next guy.

Brian got to the wall right before the pack of angry football players caught up to us. He didn’t have time to hop over, but he did have time to dive into the bushes, I only had time to put my hands up in surrender.

There they were, a sophomore and senior coalition, holding me hostage with ammunition I had filled myself. They had me, but they wanted more. “Where’s the rest of ‘em?” they demanded, arms cocked, ready to throw.

I may not have been fleet of foot but that night I was quick. They did not know where Brian was, I did. They did not know Brian used to beat me up in elementary school, I did. Brian didn’t know what I was going to do, I did.

From his hiding place in the bushes Brian could not see me. I plead loudly, “I don’t know where they are, I swear!” all the while pointing to the shrubbery.

I was one of the proud few to finish that night with dry clothes. It was strange how all those upperclassmen had seemingly given up the chase and simply discarded their balloons in the bushes. How odd.

The party goers were drenched, my comrades were wet; covered in twigs, and I think the girls all went home in the Jeep. We walked slowly, and sloppily, down the street.

“Ball tomorrow?” Kirk asked. I nodded yes and went home.Image

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.