The Day I Almost Became Cool

When we recently asked our kids what they knew about us when we were young, they said that their dad was freaking awesome while their mom was a bit of a geek.

This got me thinking about the day I almost became cool.  Seriously, I was this close to turning our elementary school hierarchy on its head.

Fifth grade was pretty rough on me, and that was never more clear than during P.E.   Mrs. Kirkwood made us all play prison ball, a game that should be eradicated by every school district in America.


My fifth grade picture. So my hair might have also contributed to my lack of coolness.

Since we were in 5th grade, our popularity was directly tied to how many of our opponents we could take out in the game. Unfortunately, this fact did not work in my favor.  I stayed behind as many of my teammates as possible, glued to the back wall, hoping that none of the rubber balls would make it through all the human shields that stood in front of me.

The game was like dodgeball except that you went to prison after getting hit. Theoretically, once you went to prison you stood in line and waited until it was your turn to be released.

But it never happened that way.  Our 5th grade was ruled by triumvirate of girls, girls that were always the team captains.  Nobody dared mess around with them.   As soon as they were hit, they went to the front of the prison line and were back in the game before you could say the words, “I hate prison ball.”

These girls could throw the ball hard, hard enough to shove your small intestines up your stomach and never make you want to eat again. I still remember the nauseous feeling I felt when they were let back in the game.  Or maybe the nausea was due to the lingering smell of yellow sticky rice and green beans in our cafeteria.  It’s hard to say.

Mrs. Kirkwood was not nauseous at all.  In fact, she was quite enjoying herself.  She would be sitting on a stool wearing blue polyester pants and a loose floral top which completely belied the fact that she was basically a Roman spectator enjoying a blood bath of ten-year-old gladiators.

Anyway, being a spectator myself, I started to pick up on a few things.  For one, while the queens of prison ball were indeed intimidating, they weren’t helping their team win.  Sure they creamed somebody else on their other team, but then the queens got knocked out pretty quickly themselves.  Their presence in the game was a net zero.

There were a few other girls that did not stand at the front lines at all times.  When they actually had a ball, they ran up front to throw it, but then they ran back again before getting hit.  I tried this strategy a few times and found it quite effective.

Understanding this, I decided it was time to start a revolution.  The next time we had P.E., I put myself forward as team captain.  Of course there were plenty of gasps and dropped jaws, but hey, I could handle it.

But then we started picking our teams.  “Josie,” I said calmly.  Now we had some major gasping going on.  Josie was picked last, sometimes not at all.  She had thick glasses and from what we observed, they weren’t exactly doing their job.

The other queen captain picked another terrifying opponent while I continued to select our team of misfit players.  By the time we were done, nobody quite knew what to do.

Were we actually supposed to play now?  Even the triumvirate seemed to hesitate, confused that they were all playing on the same team this time and that all of their opponents were wall flowers.  Once we started, I tell a few of my teammates that they could go ahead and pick up the ball when it came to them as some of them had never been in contact with a ball before.

We focused on getting the top three queens out over and over and over again, and they kept butting their way into the game again, which only helped us pull farther ahead.   Nobody could believe what was happening.  The queens got good and mad, and I wondered why Mrs. Kirkwood wasn’t called 911 because we were inevitably going to need an ambulance.   Their anger paid off because in a few minutes there were only two of us left and neither one of us were queens.  It was just down to me and Krista Jennings.

Our teacher made us go in the ring of fire, and after I threw the ball at her and missed, Krista nailed me in the foot.

I was that close.  That close.  Of course losing is losing and nobody in 5th grade stops to think about how close it was or that Becky Blackburn might actually be a pretty decent team captain.

Maybe if I had won, they would have thought about that.  If I had won, I might have ran for student government.  I might have been elected prom queen.  Heck, I might have even been asked to prom.  I guess we’ll never know.



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