Does anyone remember the movie “Mr. Woodcock” with Billy Bob Thornton?
Thornton played a junior high physical education teacher that used politically incorrect tactics to toughen and educate early-adolescence boys.
As with most Generation X males, I had a junior high P.E. teacher—back when it was still called “gym”—similar to the one depicted by Thornton.
In today’s coddle-our-kids-or-sue-the-school society, he would be fired immediately or never hired in the first place. But to me he ranks among the top three of my most memorable educators.
Did he sometimes embarrass you in front of your peers? Yes.
Did he bean you with a baseball when you crowded the plate? Yes.
Did he call you out when you missed a layup after a good pass from a teammate? Yes.
Did he make you do wall-stands and run laps when you were screwing around in class? Yes.
These are all things parents complained about when they spoke about the man, but he was exactly the type of junior high gym teacher 12-to-14-year-old boys need.
How can you not listen to a man who would tell you, “I would have given my right testicle to play Major League Baseball, but wound up giving it to the Army instead”?
How could you not respect a man who had complete control of his class? That’s a lot more than I can say for a lot of other teachers I had.
And how could you not like a teacher who had such a love for sports and teaching that he would stay after school during the off-seasons to work with kids, like me, who may not have had the most God-given athletic ability but had a desire to be good anyway?
If it weren’t for some of the “cheap tricks” he taught me about playing defense in the low post, my then skinny frame would have never seen any playing time at the high school varsity level.
Now that I’m older, I understand what I believe to be his philosphy: Life is hard and no one is going to do you any favors, so kids need to learn during adolescence to be tough and perform despite not being comfortable or having outstanding ability.
And taking kids out of their comfort zone is exactly what he did.
He accused people of playing “who goosed the moose with the shower head.”
He made a couple friends and me run two miles beside the bus down Main Street Eureka back to school after catching us playing home run derby at the tennis courts when we should have been practicing our backhands.
He hit me with a basketball several times when I was wide open but not paying attention under the basket.
“You messed up my assist,” he would tell me.
He also doubled as a health instructor. He didn’t have the most scientific mind, but I wouldn’t have wanted to learn it any other way. He spoke in a language we all could understand.
I don’t know what happened to one of the last of the “gym” coaches. From what I hear, he “retired” a few years after I graduated.
They must have replaced him with a P.E. teacher.