It was the first day of practice – I was late. I began to panic. Maybe I’d come on the wrong day…maybe I’d come to the wrong place! Every time I would open a door, there was another hallway. I couldn’t find the coaches – I couldn’t find any of the other players.
And that’s when it hit me, this was Jr. High School.
And I…was completely…and utterly…alone.
1973. It was a crazy time. Nixon and the Watergate scandal were the headlines and people were on the move…looking for answers…breaking new ground and wanting change.
Seemed like everyone was searching for a new identity. Me, I was breaking some ground of my own. That September I entered Rocky Ridge Junior High. I was looking forward to new adventures. I wanted to start my 7th grade year with a bang. I wanted to play sports…not just any sport but the sport of football to be exact.
After running down every hall of the school, I finally found the locker room and went in.
To say that they were less than pleased to see me come into the locker room more than 10 minutes late for the first day of practice is an understatement. For what it’s worth, it did get me noticed. More importantly, I gave the coaches a face of the one person they would ride and harass for the rest of the season.
I survived that first day and at the end the week, the coaches called out my name and they threw me my new football jersey. Christmas Green…with the number 80 blazoned in white on the front and in the back. I was now officially a member of the 7th grade football team for the Oak Harbor Rockets. I was so proud.
I had not even put on a pair of shoulder pads and here I was strutting around in my football jersey. We were told to wear the jersey to first day of school and I happily complied. I remember walking through the doors that first day of school with my bright Christmas green jersey on. I was way too cool and I remember walking about two foot off the ground.
I had no clue of what I was going to face in the coming days.
Considering the fact in 1973, I was a smidgen over 5 foot tall and weighed all of 70 lbs. I should have been keenly aware of what I was about to face. When I was finally fitted with my equipment, I realized that something was different. Running around with all these pads on was much different from what I was used to when the guys and I played backyard football in Blakely’s yard. This was going to take some time to adjust.
For the most part, I survived the first few practices by being pretty lucky and besides the prodding from the coaches I stayed out of the line of fire. Then the fateful event happened. We had a football drill called “hamburger”, which basically is a drill where two players lie on their back with their helmets touching. On the coach’s whistle, both players get up and run back four yards in opposite directions, where one player takes a handoff from one coach and the other slaps the hands of a waiting coach. At that point, they run at each other. The player with the ball tries to run through the tackler and the tackler tries to bring the ball carrier down. After the tackle is made, each player moves to the back of the line as all players take part in this drill.
I took my spot in line and as I got closer to my turn to participate in the drill, I looked across to the other line to see who my competition was going to be. I really wanted to make a good impression on the coaches and I wanted to make sure I was matched up with someone my size and if luck would have it, maybe even someone smaller than me. So I watched to see who was going to line up against me. I saw that it was someone who was bigger than me and I started to shuffle my way a spot further back in line where I would be matched with someone my size. I got to my preferred place in line when I heard the loudest whistle I think I have ever heard. Then I hear my coach screaming out my name, “LEE…front and center!!!” I had been caught cutting the line…which was a big no-no.
He grabbed me by the facemask and pulled me over to the spot where I would have to carry the ball. He makes me lie down at the spot and I hear him talking to other players but I cannot hear what he is saying. I hear the whistle and I jump up to take the hand off from my coach. Everything is good up to this point and I take the hand off and I turn to run the ball through the defensive player. Here is when things start to go south, because it is then I see him.
Earl Kashmere…that’s right and he was a monster. Earl Kashmere was Mr. Football of the Oak Harbor Junior High. He was no less than a foot taller than me and he was about 100 lbs. heavier as well. Earl was just staring at me, waiting for the kill and I thought just before he hit me that I saw a glimpse of a small smile come across his face.
I had never been hit so hard in my entire life. My body went completely numb and I saw stars. I remember hitting the ground and as all the air rushed from my lungs so did any current desire to play football.
Have you ever known those moments that changed your life? Do you remember a specific time, a special event that was life changing for you? I think it happens to all of us, I know it happened to me on that day. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t quit. I stuck it out for the season. I wanted to play, but I just wasn’t good enough and so I took my position on the team as a bench warmer.
Profound moments of life are not all good moments. This moment for me was ego destroying and my quest from that day on was to make sure I “got in the game,” whatever the game might be…even if it wasn’t football. So my career was short-lived and I never played football again for the Rocket’s.
That was over 35 years ago and every now and then when I see that picture of me in that Christmas Green football jersey, I smile and wonder whatever happened to Earl Kashmere.