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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Call Me Coach

By Caroline Ramberg

Ball players develop their skills during childhood. Without father, brother or neighborhood playmates to encourage me, I never learned to catch, throw or hit. Later, in gym classes, big, tough girls from the other side of the tracks intimidated me with fast balls, insults and threats. In spite of that, I fielded a winning softball team during my first year teaching.

I was honest with Windsor School principal, Bob Burke, during the hiring interview admitting athletics was not my strong subject. Nevertheless, I was offered a contract to teach a regular seventh grade class at this small rural school. With the confidence of youth, I signed up — $3,240 with a bonus of $180 for Girls P.E., an adequate beginning teacher’s salary in 1953.

My coaching duties did not begin until the spring, so I had several months to prove myself as a hardworking, beginning teacher. Following the advice of vice principal, Charlotte Sacher — "Don't smile until after Thanksgiving!" — I quickly mastered class control.

The students figured out right away that I had little knowledge of the games or skills involved during the daily physical education period for seventh and eighth grade girls. When prune trees began to blossom, it was time to start spring training, my students informed me, concerned about how I would handle coaching. Windsor played softball in a rural school league and rivalry was tense because our school had a winning season the previous year.

One after-school workout was all it took for the players to know their worst expectations were true — their coach would be more hindrance than help. The next day, three or four boys appeared. While I was wondering what to do, the boys organized the team, coached pitching, fielding and batting in an orderly fashion they had learned in Little League.

The girls borrowed mitts from brothers; the school supplied a catcher’s mask and a chest pad. I drifted around worrying about safety, but they didn’t need me to do anything more than settle arguments. Practice with the aid of the boys went along smoothly. Spirits rose and the school board found some money to buy baseball caps.

Softball was a stimulus that caused some of our reluctant scholars to improve their classroom attendance. Onerous school rules could be more easily endured when there was softball practice after school.

One of these irregular students was the pitcher, Myrtle, a mature Pomo Indian girl. Members of the local Pomo community were avid ball players and their children became excellent players at an early age. Myrtle was an outstanding pitcher with a hard, fast underhand throw good enough to compete with the boys. We counted on her to win the series for us.

One day Myrtle stayed home sulking because Mrs. Sacher, a stickler for rules, refused to allow her to chew gum or wear dangling earrings and lipstick to class. We feared all was lost.

In the teachers' room, the eighth grade teacher and I, abetted by the principal, begged Charlotte to bend the rules at least until softball season was over and she agreed.

The season began. Mrs. Sacher looked the other way while our girls, painted like tarts, brought off double plays, home runs and piled up scores that would please Casey Stengel. With earrings swinging, gum snapping, Myrtle pitched like a pro. We won the championship in three games played against Alexander Valley, Geyserville and Mark West Schools.

The students felt I had earned my keep by interceding against Mrs. Sacher, so I was able to hold up my head. In the faculty room I was called "Coach."

Before eighth grade graduation, I was able to prove my worth to the students and perhaps even to the principal. They wanted to have a grand graduation party with soft lights, girls in heels and hose and boys cleaned up in white shirts and neckties, but they didn't know how to dance. While I can't catch a ball, I can do a two-step and I knew how to teach it.

"If you can get the boys to come for dancing practice, I will teach all of you to dance," I promised the girls.

Those tough ball players browbeat the boys and after a few sessions most learned to shuffle around in time with the music. I even taught them some etiquette rules.

The graduation party in the festooned kindergarten room was a great success. Dressed in their finest, the boys and girls danced to music from their favorite records. Mothers brought punch and cookies. Parents thanked me for teaching their children ballroom dancing. No one mentioned my winning softball team.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a lovely story! Congrats on telling it so well.

I had never heard of the POMO Indians, however, I am very familiar with the Fugarwi's.
Good Job! Coach!

You had a tough challenge and you handled it well. I guess your team wasn't in a sports minded area because most parents would have been more proud of the winning team than ball room dancing. (I want to move there.)

I laughed out loud at "Don't smile until Thanksgiving"! What a great strategy! How lucky those kids are to have had you as their teacher and coach...and I bet they really appreciated the dance class when they reached the age where the glove got tossed into the corner of their room! Lovely story. Thanks for sharing it.

My favortie part was: The season began. Mrs. Sacher looked the other way while our girls, painted like tarts, brought off double plays, home runs and piled up scores that would please Casey Stengel.

Those lucky students to have your dedication and sensitivity. Your words make perfect pictures. Bet you smiled before Thanksgiving, too.. Ann B.

ah, yes, I remember the "smile rule"! That was the worst thing ever for me as a beginning teahcer, think it lasted a few days! I taught first grade, you just had to smile! I had a principal however, who believed that rule was the sign of a good teacher. I loved the kids, they loved me, but the principal! I got through the year, smiles intact and a principal
who must have been "botoxed" because she never smiled! I taught elsewhere the next year!

Bravo Caroline! Loved the earrings, sad that the parents liked the dancing more than the softball games. Where is that Pomo woman today??!!

Writing this story was teaching also. I liked that the boys came to the rescue and after others "pitched" in you came out champs.

Hope you're willing and able to throw us another good story, Coach.

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