Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Of Mr. Heydenreich and Delusional Little Assbags

I loathe athletes who, on doing something notable — running back an interception for a touchdown, say, or hitting a home run — point skyward to acknowledge that they couldn’t have done it without The Lord Thy God.  Much as I may loathe athletes who make grandiose displays of their humility, though, there is a group I loathe even more — youth sport coaches. There are of course kind, nurturing, decent ones, but my observation is that the very large majority are woeful dickheads trying to erase the memory of their own juvenile athletic inadequacy by badgering their kids into being what they themselves were not.  I’m not so sure I don’t believe such persons should be castrated.

The late Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi is widely understood to have said, “Winning isn’t the best thing, but the only thing.” I would not want to sit on public transportation beside anyone who believes that. When I hear a grown man screaming at a nine-year-old boy for being less invested in Winning than he himself is, I wonder why, as a society, we take a very dim view of the psychological devastation that results from molestation, but are perfectly OK with the psychological devastation resulting from bullying on the field of play.

Over the course of my public school education, I was the charge of a great many teachers who, in a better world, would have been forbidden to open their stupid mouths within hearing of impressionable young people. The PE teachers were invariably the worst. Let’s drink a toast to the memory of Mr. John Heydenreich of Orville Wright Junior High School, who, addressing the early-‘60s fashionability among surfers and surfer wannabes of hydrogen peroxide as a hair lightener, summed it up in three syllables: Goddamned queers. His extremely enlightened colleague, the perpetually suntanned Mr. Ed Rall, who I wouldn’t be inconsolable to hear had died of skin cancer, frowned weightlifting, as it too was indicative of latent homosexuality. And these two molders of young men received steady paychecks from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

One wasn't said to change (into gym clothes) for PE at Orville Wright Junior High School, or to dress for it. Rather, what one did was strip. Imagine the terror that struck in the hearts of little 7th-graders already shaking at the prospect of having to shower communally. What pleasure their terror must have given the sadist who popularized that locution!

Years ago, before my right shoulder had to be replaced, and I ceased to be able to throw (except ineffectually, lefthanded), I conspired to manage a Little League team in San Francisco’s foggy Sunset district. I intended to “draft” (that is, recruit) players who’d never been picked anything but last for any team ever, and to instill in them two key ideas — that one competes athletically for the fun of doing so, and that those of their classmates who believed that Winning Is the Only Thing, and further believed themselves destined for major league stardom, were delusional little assbags whose teeth life was almost guaranteed to kick down their throats. If I had to have athletically gifted kids on my team, I would bench them for derogating less gifted teammates. You want life lessons? Behold: Tolerance! Compassion! Loyalty! 

The league’s overseers advised me that they had more than enough volunteer managers, and that they would contact me if an opening materialized. Twenty years later, I’m still waiting.

Those who believe that kids learn Valuable Life Lessons from being chewed out mercilessly by their youth sport coaches, in Little League and youth soccer and, more formally, high school, may not be entirely mistaken. The ability to bite one’s tongue and endure bullying is indeed necessary in many corners of the adult world, as when…reporting to a tyrannical boss. And what a lot of heart disease it engenders.


  1. I was a die-hard tomboy. I played sports with the boys and often picked first. But I felt compassion and horrible guilt for the kids always picked last. My best sports experience was a young coach of my 6th grade after school softball team. He would not allow any negative comments. We all had to encourage each other no matter how badly one screwed up. It was the best sports experience I ever had and absolutely built the character of each and every one of us.

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