It’s probably time to bury my high school letterman’s jacket.
It took me a while to find it. It was in a cardboard box in the garage under a bunch of old T-shirts. Moths or some other animals have been gnawing at it a while. Jenine, my wife, was surprised to find out I had one.
My colleagues here at the Transcript Bulletin were probably equally surprised, given my general incompetence about most things sports related.
Despite the fact that during my senior year in high school the school newspaper ran my photo on the front page with the caption, “Most decorated letter,” sports and I have not been close friends.
I do realize that the honor of “Most decorated letter” was more than just a little tongue in cheek.
But for three years, I Iived in that jacket.
It’s not that I wanted to show off my letter. Anyone who knew me in high school knew it didn’t draw a lot of girls my way.
The jacket was very utilitarian. My high school didn’t have hallways. To get from one end to the other, we had to go outside and walk around the building, which made wearing a coat a practical thing to do.
The letterman’s jacket was the perfect weight: heavy enough to keep you warm for a few minutes but light enough it could be worn indoors without being uncomfortable.
My varsity letter sported a soccer ball, a basketball, a football, and crossed baseball bats. It has three stripes, indicating I had earned a varsity letter for three years.
The jacket had the number 75 on one sleeve, the year I graduated. And my last name was on the other sleeve. I have always been known as “Gillie.” It wasn’t until I started working here at the Transcript that people started calling me “Tim.”
The letter also had a diamond with the letters “MGR,” in them. I earned my varsity letters as the team manager and trainer.
It was my job to anticipate every need of the coaches and players before they discovered it was needed. It may have been a water bottle full of water, a clean leather game ball filled to the proper pressure, a strap for a shoulder pad, or even a pair of uniform game socks for when a player opened their bag at an away game and discovered their mother forgot to pack their socks.
I would vacuum the gym floor, pull the bleachers out, and set up the clock and scoreboard before a freshmen or sophomore basketball game.
As a trainer — well, as a student trainer — I taped ankles, wrapped knees and other extremities, as well as treated injuries and helped with recovery from minor sports related trauma.
I was armed with the Boy Scout first aid merit badge, Red Cross standard first aid training, a week long residential camp for student trainers taught by the training staff at the University of Washington, and a six-Saturday course in treating athletic injuries for coaches/teachers taught by the trainer for the University of Puget Sound.
I’m amazed and sometimes scared when I look back on what I did then. Today, it would be a lawsuit in the making or at least grounds for being charged with practicing medicine without a license.
I examined players left behind on the ground on the football field and determined what care they needed. I talked with parents after games about their child’s injury. I treated many sprained ankles and followed up with therapy to reduce swelling and rehabilitate the ankle.
The wrestling coach would even ask me to look at and treat some of his injured athletes.
During my high school years, I had the opportunity to take stats, be the official scorekeeper, and run the clock/scoreboard for basketball games — but not all at the same time.
I was on the chain gang for football games. I filmed, with real Super 8 film, freshmen football games.
The junior varsity baseball coach taught me how to hit balls with a fungo bat and warm the team up on the field. I also coached first base for junior varsity games.
Hanging around sports so much, you would think I’d have learned a few things about them.
But the things I learned were like how to get fresh blood out of a football uniform.
The strategy of the games or difference between a wishbone and I-formation eluded me, but I did know the difference between a zone and man-to-man defense in basketball.
A freshman football player that I knew used to come down and stand by me on the sidelines of football games. He taught me the position names and what they do. I finally knew the difference between a halfback, fullback and cornerback. I already had the quarterback job figured out.
He also taught me why I shouldn’t give a quarterback a uniform with the number 84.
Once, one of my coaches told me my ignorance and indifference was one of my strengths. He said I didn’t get all wrapped up in the game or try to understand it, which made me able to concentrate on the things I needed to concentrate on.
“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise?”
But yes, understanding or playing sports was never my strong suit.
When I was maybe 9 or 10, my mother decided I needed to learn to play baseball. She signed me up for Little League. The coach put me in centerfield and told me if the ball came my way to backup and let the left or right field player get the ball.
I managed to get on base once; I got hit on my helmet with the ball. The coach substituted another runner for me because he was worried I might have been injured. But I wasn’t and he knew it.
My seventh-grade junior high physical education class consisted of around 100 seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students.
I was always the last one picked by the team captain. One time, with three of us left, the captain whose turn it was to pick a player told the other captain, “Go ahead and pick again, and I’ll let you take two as long as one of them is Gillie.”
My sports knowledge and skill are still lacking, but my indifference to high school sports is more feigned than real. I actually support high school sports. I know they help build school spirit and contribute to a positive school environment.
Like many academic subjects, the important things you learn in sports aren’t subject specific, but are character traits that linger long after the athlete plays their last game — team work, sacrifice, leadership, and determination, to name a few.
I have known students who would have dropped out of school were it not for sports.
Covering high school sports for Tooele County schools is an important part of what we do here at the Transcript Bulletin. We also try to recognize our county’s student accomplishments in academics, arts and other fields.
We are fortunate to have a highly talented and competent sports editor who didn’t graduate from a Tooele County high school, so he doesn’t bleed purple, red, blue, maroon or green.
I may go to a football game this fall, just to see what it feels like.
Maybe the lights, the sound of players colliding, whistles blowing, the crowd cheering and the band playing, along with the smell of concessions in the air, will bring back more memories.
If I ever venture into sports writing … Never mind. Sports Editor Darren Vaughan said that’s not going to happen.
I did say he was competent.