Posted tagged ‘middle school’

Cross-Country Return

May 13, 2018

 WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 13, 2018

                          

I received the good news this week. Next school year I’ll be coaching middle school cross-country. It’s a return, in many ways, to my roots!

When I was a junior in high school I started running cross-country. My path had been pre-determined by the previous school year’s track program. At a cold early April triangular meet at Fairland High School in Proctorville, Ohio, the Ironton High School head track coach, Bill Trent, had asked if anyone was interested in running in the two mile race that day. Our team needed another runner to compete, or at least jog. Although I had been the Wood County, West Virginia, eight year old 50 yard dash champion…that had been almost eight years in the rearview mirror. This was my chance to run varsity…as a sophomore!

“But it’s Twwwooooo Miles!”

And it was cold with a chilling rain mist making it even more miserable! 

“I’ll run, Coach!”

“Okay, Billy! Do the best you can!”

I don’t remember my time that day…something like fourteen minutes! I remember that I wasn’t last, beat a couple of other runners, endured the wet wind on the back stretch, and scored a point for our team with a fourth place finish. 

And suddenly I was a distance runner! My time dropped three minutes in the next few weeks and I finished the season with a fifth place finish at the league meet in Athens. It paved the way for the fall cross-country season, and a summer of running on top of the flood walls of Ironton. 

Lance Clanton was the cross-country coach. I don’t think Coach Clanton had much experience with running, but IHS needed someone to keep a pack of running fools in line. During the school day he was the industrial arts teacher. He is the only industrial arts teacher I have ever met who was also a cross-country coach! 

We were a mediocre team not quite understanding the race tactics and practice ideas of the new school sport. Our home course include one part where we ran down into a dump area next to the school, affectionately called “the Sand Pit”, and back up again. Interval training was a foreign concept. One goofy runner named Eugene would climb a tree and wait for everyone to come back past him on a route we would run from the high school down to the cemetery and back. Actually, we were all a bit goofy, a few nerds before that term became commonplace, a couple of athletes, and a few others thrown into the mix who had nothing better to do after school.  

Two years after that I was wearing a t-shirt that had Miami of Ohio on the front of it. I was 16th man on a sixteen man roster, which means I was able to wear the t-shirt, run in the home meets, and endure the exhausting practices. Miami finished 7th at the NCAA nationals that year. I was not a factor in their success, but it did teach me a lot about what cross-country is and isn’t!

Two years later I was arriving on the small campus of Judson College in Elgin, Illinois to complete the last two years of my college education. Soon after I arrived I met Don Kraus, the cross-country coach, and his assistant, Ed Allen. They welcomed me with open arms, although I would not be eligible to compete that first year. Judson didn’t have a track, but cross-country fit well there, and we would run through campus laughing and sporting our Eagles’ warm-ups. At Judson I came to value the importance of relationships of my teammates. I can still remember each one of them…Stan Brown (who was one of my groomsmen), Jim Fay, Duane “the lumberjack” Young, Larry Crane, Kevin Kelly, Tom Randall, Mark Diehl, our manager, Tim “Ratman” Etternick, our coaches, and our trainer, Dr. Stuart Ryder…professor of English by day and “ice and bandage guy” by night.

We were a decent team, finishing sixth at the NCCAA nationals my senior year. Notice I put an extra “C” in there. The NCCAA stands for National Christian College Athletic Association, a bit less prime-time than the other organization with one less letter, but not nearly as plagued by scandal and populated by cheaters either!

And now…forty-two years after that I’ll be returning to the sport I always enjoyed and the challenges of training young runners, many whom are totally clueless about how long the race is that they will be expected to complete. I prepared for this return by coaching the distance runners at the same middle school, Timberview, this spring. The whining of seventh and eighth grade runners is like sweet music to my ears. It will be awesome to encourage the runners this coming August that they CAN do it, they CAN succeed, they CAN be something more than they thought they could ever be. 

Middle School Lunch Detention

May 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May, 9, 2018

                      

It’s the card that you hold in your teaching hands that has the power to raise a student’s eyebrows, the corrector of the uncorrectable…the threat of lunch detention!

For most students it holds the same level of dread as being grounded for a day, or having to write “I will not act like a fool ever again!” fifty times on a sheet of notebook paper. Only the threat of execution or taking the student’s cell phone away holds more power.

Last week I used the trump card three times. For one student I could see the fear of God in his eyes when I hinted that the consequence was close at hand. He would have run through fire to avoid it. For the other two students, however, their intelligent responses had taken siestas and left them unprotected from momentary stupidity.

After pronouncing sentence the first convicted thirteen year old tried to convince me of my unreasonableness. Too late, my man! Since you gave me a bunch of baloney, you’ll be eating your baloney sandwich at that desk!

The second charged, tried, and convicted was like a repeat offender. When the threat of detention revealed its ugly head he acted like it was a good thing…kind of like wearing a pair of “tighty whitie” underwear that’s a size too small! That’s never a good thing! His insolence caused me to propose two days of lunch detention. He still mistook cockiness for courage.

“Would you like a whole week of lunch detention?” He gave me a thumbs up.

“Okay! You’ll have it all next week.”

He is the exception. 99% of middle school students, if given a choice, would choose taking a shower after P.E. class- a place in the locker room that collects cobwebs because of how often it gets used- rather than lunch detention.

When the consequences were rendered there were gasps throughout the classroom. It was seventh grade newsworthy! Word would spread through the other seventh grade classrooms as quickly as a spring thunderstorm cloud burst.

The young man who is serving “the five” saw me in the library yesterday. He looked at me and said, “I’m still mad at you!”

“Understandable! When you stop being mad at me and start being mad at yourself you will have taken a step towards maturity.”

One of his eyebrows raised as if he was thinking about it. If nothing else I got him to that point…thinking!

A 6, Followed By A 4!

May 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    May 6, 2018

                                

I’ve usually associated the  number “64” with the interstate between Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia, a road that often has the feel of the Monaco Grand Prix, populated by tensed-up drivers and speeding coal trucks.

Yesterday, however, I hit 64 in birth years. My former high school classmate, Tanya Citti, hit it a day earlier. I should have called her up to get a scouting report on its impact.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had as a wild a birthday as number 64! I’d better clarify what “wild” means in case anyone thinks I took a roll of quarters to a casino slot machine, or went to a local bar and downed a series of Woodford Reserve Kentucky bourbon shots.

“Wild” began with about eighty middle school track team members meeting to travel to the league meet at 7:30 in the morning, our final meet of the year. Being the 7th Grade Girls coach I was responsible for about twenty-five of those students, all giddy and giggly for the day ahead. I layered on the sun block because it was…wait for it!…hot! Snow had canceled our last home meet two days before!

At noon the first hint of weird and wild appeared on my cell phone screen. It was a text from my youngest daughter, Lizi. The text said, “Not a good day over here! What time are you done with the meet?”

“Huh?”

I called. “What’s up?”

“Well, Mom fell in the front yard at Kecia’s house (our oldest daughter), hurt her shoulder, and is at the doctor.”

“Ohh, how did she do that?”

“She stepped in a divot or something…and then-“

“And then?”

“Yes, and then while she was there Reagan (our seven year old granddaughter) fell off the monkey bars at the park a couple blocks away from the doctor’s office and got a gash beside her eye so I had to take her to the Emergency Room at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital.”

“What!!??”

“So she’s probably going to get some stitches and then Mom’s doctor is sending her here to have her shoulder x-rayed.”

“Her doctor is sending her to the same ER as Reagan?”
“Yes! Oh, and happy birthday, Dad!”

Middle school track meets can sometimes seem like they go on forever. Saturday’s seemed to go on forever…and ever…and ever, as the three ladies close and dear to my heart spent their afternoons populating the emergency room! Lizi and Reagan were able to leave about 3:00, but Carol was still there…waiting! When I got home at 4:30 I dropped my stuff, changed clothes, and headed to Penrose to be with her. A new Time magazine came in the mail so I threw it in the car. Murphy’s law says that if you take nothing to read with you you’ll end up being there forever, but if you take a book, the newspaper, or a magazine you’ll never get a chance to open it. Sure enough, when I checked in at the ER Security desk Carol texted me, “Ready to leave!”

The security person took me back to Room 8 and there was my wounded warrior, struggling to get her pants on. I helped her get her right foot through the correct hole, the foot that she informed me had also been sprained in her fall that morning.

A few minutes later, with a boot on her foot, I helped her hobble out to the car, got her buckled in, and headed home.

Lizi and Kecia arrived a little while later, Kecia driving Carol’s car that had still been parked at her house. She, and her husband, Kevin, had been at the Spartan Race that morning and afternoon, an eight mile run with a 100% possibility of getting muddy and dirty as the participants encountered various obstacles and challenges.

They all wished me a happy birthday, and then apologized.

“It’s all right! I’ll have another one next year!”

Next year…65! And my mind went to another highway, I-65, the interstate I traveled numerous times from Chicago to Indianapolis. A road that does not seem nearly as treacherous and intense as 64, and I thought to myself, hopefully number 65 will more resemble that road than the wild ride 64 was!

Middle School Track Knowledge and Reluctance

April 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          April 28, 2018

                      

One week from today our middle school track season culminates with our big league meet that draws 12 schools together.

Let me say this: I love coaching middle school track! Every day is a story that’s about to be created and lived. Each of our coaches is in charge of a certain group. This year I have 7th Grade girls…38 bundles of confusion and giggles! I also am in charge of training all of the distance runners, a Dairy Queen Blizzard of personalities and varying levels of talent…and non-talent! One boy still wears his sweat pants underneath his uniform shorts…in the meets, even when it’s seventy degrees!

Last week one of the 7th Grade girls came up to me in the midst of our home meet and said, “Coach Wolfe, where do I get a ‘bonette’?” I asked her to say the word again. “The bonette.”

“Do you mean the baton?”

“Oh, yes, the baton!”

It is an example of the unpredictable. As the coach, I am never quite sure what is going to be asked and what direction the question is seeking to lead me in.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside for practice today, are we?”
“Sure, why wouldn’t we?”
“It’s cold!”

“That’s why we gave you a pair of sweats.”
“But I forgot mine.”

“Wow! That’s too bad! Okay, let’s go!”

Coaching tip: In middle school track it’s important to know when to look void of any hint of empathy and when to be extremely sympathetic. If someone is having a hard time breathing it’s essential to make sure the runner is okay, but when someone is just being “middle school-ish irresponsible” keep a facial expression that communicates disbelief in their decision-making.

Second coaching tip: Raise the bar of expectations!

“Hey! I’ve charted out your 1600 race and if you stay on this pace you’ll run this time.”

Dismay running across her face! “I can’t do that!”

“Oh, yes you can! And I’ll help you.”

“But-“

“Would you like to run this time?”

“Yes!”

“Then you’re going to!”

And she did! There are some middle schoolers who got in line twice when confidence was being handed out, and there are others who forgot to get in that line! They have to be spoon-fed the confidence to do what they don’t think they will ever be able do. At our next meet I’ll lower her time once again, get the same look of dismay, and help her achieve her “impossible” once again!

Coaching tip #3: Treat each athlete equally and coach every athlete to succeed no matter their talent level.

Seventh Grade girls want to relate to the coach. They want to know you care and are willing to hear their goofiness and forgive their goofs. From the girl who will win you four events to the girl who may throw a negative distance in the discus they are all important, and when my #38th most talented athlete runs up to me and says that although she still finished last she beat her personal best the coach gives her a high five and a “whoot whoot!”

Middle school track is more about conquering mountains and easing fears than it is about times and distances. It’s more about the laughter of thirteen year olds than the yelling of their parents.

It’s more about teaching them about track than winning medals and ribbons. Case in point, at the beginning of each track practice I ask my seventh grade girls a track trivia question. The winning answer gets a roll of “Smarties!” Last week I asked them what event in the Olympic track and field competition includes water. The answer is the steeplechase, but that event was like a foreign concept for the girls. The first girl who thought she knew the answer raised her hand and I called on her.

“Is it water polo?”

“No, they play water polo at…water polo!”

Bonettes, water polo, personal bests…it’s all good!

Middle School Track Practice

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 7, 2018

                               

Track practice started this past Monday…middle school track practice. An assortment of short and tall adolescents gathered for the uncertainty of what would happen on the outside oval.

Questions abounded…would the coaches run them so much they would fall down and throw up? Would they astound the world with their performance? Would people be looking at them as they trudged around the track? Would the one of the opposite sex, whose attention they desire, notice them? Would their uniform fit? Did they have the moxy to stay with it?

One hundred and twenty seventh and eighth grade students…wondering about what was ahead!

Coach McKinney gathered them together and shared his excitement about having all of them there. Some of them were grizzled one year veterans, having run as seventh graders. Others had the “deer in headlights” look about them.

“Coach Wolfe, what are we going to do today?” asked a paranoid seventh grade girl who I know.

“I think we’re going to warm up with a five mile run around the neighborhood and then do an interval ladder series, and then probably cool down with a two mile jog.”

Eyes as wide as the Grand Canyon, as she reconsiders whether she can switch from track to intramural golf.

“Just kidding! Actually, I’m not sure, so we’ll find out together!”

Exhale of relief!

Coach McKinney forewarns them that Colorado weather is unpredictable and emphasizes the importance of making sure they have the needed clothing. He makes the point that some days they may need to have layers of clothing. On Friday the temperature drops to 25 degrees with a few snow flurries. The seventh grade girls, who I am the coach for, run to me as soon as I enter the gym.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside today, are we?”

“Yes!”

“But it’s cold!” whines the young lady wearing athletic shorts and a tee shirt.

“Yes…yes, it is! So, make sure you put your hoodie on and sweat pants also!”

“But I didn’t bring anything! I didn’t think we’d be going OUTSIDE!” (Emphasize whiny voice!)

“We will ALWAYS go outside unless the school administration says we can’t.”

WHINE: “Coach Wolfe!”

I smile at her and she gets the hint that whining will not change the location of our practice. At the end of practice we pass out team uniforms and sweats. The students welcome the sweats like they are Christmas presents!

As the week has gone on certain runners have impressed. Others have needed encouragement and words that instill confidence in them. Two new students- one from California and one from Florida- have used the week to get used to the 6,000 feet altitude, after coming from sea level. Pained facial expressions bring words of empathy from the coaches.

The coaches time everyone on different days during the week on the 100, 200, 400, 800, and a run around the high school and middle school campus that is close to a mile. Everyone finishes every race!

At the end of Friday’s practice a hundred and twenty students are still smiling. No one has asked for a transfer to golf, but everyone is praying for a warm Monday afternoon!

Don’t Do Stupid!

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 6, 2018

                           

In my adventures as a middle school substitute teacher and coach I have experienced a number of students who have strayed into that strange land known as “Stupidity”! It is a place whose only borders are common sense and reasoning.

Sometimes students stray into this dark territory like lambs who have lost their way. A few seconds of their life that dumbfounds everyone around them suddenly finds them standing at a point where the question comes too late: What was I thinking?

And so I tell the students that I coach at the beginning of the season the three words:

“Don’t do stupid!”

I explain to them that my incorrect verb usage is on purpose, because “stupid” is not who a person is, stupid is a choice! Someone chooses to do stupid!

Most middle school students do not have the ability yet to think of long term consequences when it comes to crossing over the Stupid boundaries. I remember one of my basketball players years ago who “de-pantsed” another boy at the beginning of one of our practices. He did it in the middle of the gym and, unfortunately for him, he did it right as the assistant principal was coming into the gym. It was funny for a few seconds…and then he received a five day suspension!

I’ve noticed trends in the treks to Stupidity. Eighth grade boys tend to be tempted the most to cross over. For some it’s the thrill of the ridiculous, the stories that they will tell years later at class reunion gatherings. They are reincarnations of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”!

Eighth grade girls are a bit more hesitant, or, optimistically speaking, wiser. They think about it longer, but, as a result of that, are also a bit more devious when they sneak into the forbidden zone. Their head-shaking exploits often involve a cell phone that they look at more often than the world around them.

Seventh grade boys follow closely behind, swayed by stories of their predecessors. Their exploits are usually void of creativity. They’re things like throwing a pencil at someone or pulling a chair out from another student who is just about to sit down. Some seventh grade boys, however, are building reputations for being citizens of the land of Stupid. Ask any seventh grade teacher about two months into the school year who the “suspects” are and they  know the ones who have applied for citizenship status in Stupidity.

Seventh grade girls infrequently come close to the border. The ones who venture across usually are verbal in their transgressions, saying words that are hateful and demeaning. Rarely do they stray over in ways that are physically dangerous or do the stuff that legends are built on.

Stupidity lurks in the midst of each school day. It’s sweet aroma draws in its prey at a moment’s notice. Some students do things at school that would curl the toes of their parents if they knew about them. There should be billboard pictures of mom and dad all along the border into Stupidity. For most students, parental fear is a good deterrent!

If pictures of my mom and dad had been plastered on my school desk I would not have made some of my journeys across the border when I was a middle schooler. Since they weren’t staring me in the face, however, I ventured into Stupidity every once in a while. Fortunately I was always “just visiting!”

Teacher-Parent Conference

March 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 26, 2018

                                 

Dear Mrs. Jones,

It was very considerate of you to offer to have a conference with our teaching teammates, but we have decided not to take you up on your offer. Meeting us at the fitness club at the conclusion of your workout before you even have a chance to go for your spa treatment and shower was a strong indication of your desire to fit us into your schedule.

But then to offer a second possibility of a conference at your favorite Starbucks sometime between two and four o’clock so you can get double your Starbuck’s rewards…well, that was taking self-sacrifice to a new level!

I know you have concerns about how we have been teaching Johnny Junior the essential knowledge and skills necessary for him to be successful next year when he enters 8th Grade. Believe me, we understand that pre-algebra is a challenging subject to master, but most students need to pass it before they take algebra. We understand the difficulty of that task, especially when Johnny Junior has missed so many days of school because of the two different five-day suspensions and your family’s twelve day vacation to Disney World during the two school weeks preceding the week-long Thanksgiving break.

We understand your opinion that the first five-day suspension because of the sexually explicit remarks and inappropriate physical contact he made on several occasions to a female student was excessive, but it followed school policy and guidelines. I’m sure it was comforting to find out the family decided not to press charges.

And the second suspension also followed school discipline guidelines. It’s unfortunate that the bottle of whiskey was mistakenly placed in Johnny Junior’s backpack. I’m sure his father felt terrible when he realized that he had accidentally placed it in the backpack as opposed to his suitcase for the business trip he was about to embark on.

We recognize, as Johnny Junior’s teachers, what a burden such events and family vacations have placed upon him. We apologize for being underachieving teachers. We really do want Johnny Junior to be successful, and we will try to adjust to the challenges ahead. We know you’re seeking to accommodate us as much as you can, letting us know ahead of time of Johnny Junior’s absence the week after Spring Break because he will be at the NCAA Hockey Frozen Four games in Minneapolis.

We will try to do our best. With his suspensions, vacations, and also sick days he’s been out of school almost forty days so far. We’ll try to step it up as his educators and overcome that challenge. After all, being in class sometimes get overrated. If you do the homework assignments you’ll get the jest of things.

Speaking of homework, we’re missing a number of Johnny Junior’s assignments. We know you suggested that he turned them in and that we were not very responsible teachers in losing them, but our team of teachers has talked about it. Ms. Morton, his social studies teacher, distinctly remembers when one day she asked for the homework assignment to be handed in, gathered them up, and Johnny Junior looked at her and said he hadn’t done it. Could it be that there were other occasions when he didn’t do the assignment also? We know that’s an assumption on our part, but we were just asking.

We hate to bring this up at this time, but Johnny Junior may be facing another suspension, although this could just be a three day instead of a five day! The assistant principal will probably be calling you today to give you the details and consequences. Johnny Junior was having a bad morning probably as a result of skipping breakfast and relying on the nutritional value of a Venti Vanilla Bean Frappuccino from Starbucks to get him through the tough grind of Science class followed by Language Arts. He probably didn’t mean it, but he called Mrs. Case a couple of derogatory names. More specifically, “a big fat pig”, followed closely by a comment heard by the whole class about the size of her back side. Since everyone heard at least the second derogatory remark Mrs. Case really had no choice but to send him to the office. The good news is that the office staff knows Johnny Junior well so they don’t have to fill out a lot of personal information sheets all over again. His is on file…right in the front so that it’s easily accessible.

Thanks for your understanding about not being able to meet with you at your request. Sometimes Johnny Junior will have teachers who just aren’t with it. Between the four of us on our teaching team we’re now at seventy-four years of classroom teaching. That means a lot of things, but one of the downsides is that we just don’t seem to adjust that well to special cases like Johnny Junior. Perhaps in another ten years or so we can acquire those extra needed skills and quantity of patience to be able to handle things better.

If, by chance, you would like to meet with us during the two days of parent-teacher conferences provided for parents please let us know. There are still several open slots available and it would only require twenty minutes of your time here in one of the actual classrooms that Johnny Junior comes to.