elementary

The Elementary School Series: Sports Edition

Claire in Little League

My attempt at a smile after crying during a T-ball game.

 

When I was in Elementary school, I was prone to instantaneous sensory overstimulation, especially during sporting events. These are some stories that I’m sure many of my schoolteachers still remember.

Soccer Field Heartbreak

The first crush that I ever had was when I was in third grade. Unbeknownst to me, it would be the start of a long and extremely awkward quest to find – dare I even say it – “the one.”  My poor elementary school self, unaware of the shame and embarrassment that lay before me, decided to pursue a boy. Like an ignorant fairy nymph watching between the trees of a mystic forest, I stared at him longingly every time I passed his desk to go sharpen my pencil.

“I think he moved when I walked by,” I’d say to myself as I shaved my pencil to a fine point. “He definitely moved in his seat when I walked by.”

I didn’t really have any explanation as to why I suddenly felt a certain way about this boy. I didn’t wonder why I went from viewing boys as alien beings to creatures to admire because I was in kiddie love.

I decided to be brave. In class I was known as the shy kid but during recesses, I started to actually attempt to talk to him.

“Hi,” I’d say.

“Hi,” he’d say. And then he’d go play kickball.

“That was good,” I thought, giving myself emotional support. It was progress!

The most thrilling moment of my third grade love life was when we organized a soccer game during recess. Now, I was a soccer tyke pro – nobody could defeat me at my defense. My only problem was that I was usually the smallest player on the field.

Excited to show off my moves to my potential man, I sped onto the field where the other kids were teaming up. I puffed out my shoulders and stood firmly amongst my fellow sporty kids. I was the tiniest person on the field so I had to do something. “I’m not going to be picked last this time.”

I was picked last.

It didn’t matter because my hunk was on my team. “Yay!” I thought. “I can play alongside him the whole time!”

And did I. The entire game I followed his every zigzag and diagonal cut across the field. This made him look less at me, however, and more likely to give me weirded-out looks.

“This isn’t working,” I pondered. I changed my tactics and decided to alternate between running on the opposite side of the field and then happening to make my way over back to him casually.

He was receptive to this.

“Hi!” I said, during gameplay.

“Hi Claire,” he said.

“He said my name!”

I was so delighted at my success that I didn’t notice the massive fourth grade Neanderthal of a boy running into me until it was all too late. I fell down to the ground and as quickly as you could say “penalty,” I was crying.

My bitty babe and the brute that bashed into me to the ground helped me to the side of the field and sat me down. There was an adult there watching the field and she started to console me.

“Are you okay, Claire?” my crush asked, caring so tenderly for my feelings.

“Yeah… I’ll be… okay,” I said, the sobs starting to abate.

“Okay,” he said. He turned to start running onto field. The oaf left me to run alongside him and started to jeer.

“What’s the matter? Aren’t you going to go back to help your girlfriend?” he sneered.

To my dismay, my love interest snapped back at him emphatically.

“She’s NOT my girlfriend!!” he yelled.

That was it. There was my answer: I wasn’t his girlfriend. And everyone knew that I was shut down. I started to bawl harder.

For a few days after that, whenever I would walk by his desk to sharpen my pencil, I’d make sure to shoot him the most hateful glare that I could conjure.

“Who needs him anyway”?

 

The Harlem Globetrotters Made me Cry

Fortunately, I haven’t cried every time I’ve met a famous person, and the following story is the reason why I try my hardest to not cry.

Since I was the world’s biggest five-year-old basketball nut, I knew whom the Harlem Globetrotters were when they came to visit my elementary school. We all were gathered in the gym and sat in front of the stage as they came up front. They were tall and funny and real basketball players. I was in awe.

They were looking into the crowd for a volunteer. Out of all of the shining faces in the crowd, they picked out me.

I was ecstatic.

As I weaved my way through the crowd and walked up to the front, the audience cheered. The players asked me innocent questions like what was my name and how old I was. I was shy and quiet and didn’t say much so they decided to go ahead with the trick.

All that I needed to do was hold a pencil and they were going to spin a ball on top of it. I always thought that spinning a ball on your fingers was the coolest thing ever so this made my head feel like it was going to explode.

But it was too much. I had gone from ecstatic to the emotional edge when the crowd started to cheer. The ball was spinning on the pencil in my hand, the gym was suddenly extremely loud, and everyone was looking at me.

I started wailing so loudly that my kindergarten teacher scooped me up and took me outside.

She knew what was going to happen the moment I started heading up to the stage.

My mom recalls: “When the teacher called home afterwards I could see the whole experience play out before it happened. It was only a matter of time. She had said, ‘I had hoped. I really, really did – I was rooting for her. But it was just too much.’”

After my teacher talked to my mom, I went back in later and sat quietly in the back where I was comfortable.

Whenever people like to brag about their celebrity meetings, I always know that I have an ace in the hole. I can always say, “I met the Harlem Globetrotters and they made me cry.”

 

“I Will PERSEVERE!”

I was going to do it. I was going to unleash my fears. I was going to battle my demons. I was going to overcome the mountain of self-doubt and self-deprecation with triumph and everyone was going to know it. I was having a meltdown, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

“I will PERSEVERE!” I yelled up to the ceiling.

My parents enjoy this particular moment in my emotional career. They would often quote “I will persevere” when I would be crying about something or other and it’d make me laugh. The important thing to note is that I do not remember any of this. I must have blocked it out of my mind considering it was so… out there.

It was during one of my community house team basketball games. Something that the coach and my parents would tell me frequently that basketball was a game of movement.

“You can’t dwell on the fact that you’ve missed a layup or if you pass it to the wrong person,” they’d say. “You just have to move on and keep going.”

I took these words to heart and decided to try to not be as affected during the games.

This particular game, though, I was making a lot of mistakes.The problem was that during the first couple of years that kids could be on the basketball teams, the refs didn’t call all of the penalties. Now that I was in fourth grade, they became more strict with the rules.

The ref often tweeted his whistle at me.

“Traveling!” he’d say.

The gameplay would resumed but soon he would tweet at me again.

“Double dribble!”

On defense, I would be better. Or so I thought.

Tweet!

“That’s a defensive foul!” he’d yell.

The last straw was when I got a foul for standing too close to the free throw net. As I was struggling to keep it together on the court, the ref went up to me.

“Just don’t worry about it, it’s just a foul,” he said.

Little did he know that telling me “don’t worry about it” was only going to make me worry about it even more.

That wasn’t going to stop me, though.

The other team carried the ball down the court. I ran behind, struggling, before stopping in the middle. I clenched my hands and raised my hands a la Platoon. Emotional catharsis. Redemption.

I unleashed my battle cry, enunciated perfectly for everyone to hear.

“I will PERSEVERE.”

This shook the crowd a little bit. There was some murmuring and “awws.” My stunned parents, however, burst out laughing.

“We didn’t want to seem like we were laughing at you!” my Mom says. “But it was so funny! I mean, what little kid says something like that? It’s something that I wish I had on video.”

Safe to say that I don’t say “I will persevere” every time I try to get past one of my moments. Although, I am interested to see what peoples’ reactions would be the next time I get frustrated during an exam or a job interview and I exclaim “I will persevere!”

 

Why would you yell at a kid during a T-ball game?

During a recent visit with my grandparents, I asked my Pop Pop about a picture of me on his desk.

“This one, now this one is a favorite,” Pop Pop said, chuckling as he picked up the picture.

My face is distorted – my one eye squinting and my mouth is in a bizarre “oh” formation. My baseball cap loosely fits the top of my head as I hold a trophy in an oversized uniform.

“You were crying and we asked you to smile and this is what you did!” Pop Pop said.

My parents were on a trip, so my Grandma Mickie and Pop Pop came up for the week to take care of me and my siblings. My last T-ball game was during this week so Grandma Mickie and Pop Pop came to watch me play. I’ve always liked baseball and, while I wasn’t the best at it, I did do a pretty good job at catcher or shortstop from time to time.

Back then, that didn’t matter though. I was just excited to be on the field. Anything was possible on the field. You didn’t know where the ball was going to end up and that was the exciting part! And it was always the best when it happened to land right in front of you because – yes! You were in control! You got to choose how the game went on! Also, I was really looking forward to the trophy at the end of the season.

As any kid knows, though, it’s hard to be part of all the action when you’re in the outfield.

As the innings went on, I was always attentive and engaged with what was going on. A single hit here, an out there. It was still all very exciting and I was still very happy to be out there, but there was something that was troubling me if just for a little bit. I had hardly touched the ball and not once had I ran onto the infield. As much as I was having fun, I wanted to be part of the game.

Late in the game, a kid at bat hit the ball in my general direction and I darted for the infield to try to make the play.

“CLAIRE!” my coach yelled. “DO NOT go for that ball! STAY in the outfield!”

Because I’ve always been a rule follower and sensitive to any time I’ve gone outside the line, I immediately stopped rushing forward and started crying. This only further annoyed my coach. He called me over and took me off the field. I went to the side telling my Grandparents that I couldn’t handle being in the game.

“He was just a little insensitive, I think,” Grandma said. “I mean you were just a little kid.”

“I mean, why would you yell at a kid in T-ball?” my Pop Pop exclaimed.

Despite my coach’s insensitivity, and my meltdown, I still came away with my end of year trophy in hand, and my Pop Pop got one of his favorite pictures of me. In a sort of way, this pattern has been consistent in my life since.

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