When I was in 7th grade, I decided to sign up for athletics (where you play school sports) vs. P.E. (where you just fulfill a credit). It wasn’t because I liked sports. I didn’t. Nor was it because I was particularly athletic. I wasn’t. It was solely because, in the world of middle school girls, athletics was “cool” and P.E. wasn’t. And that in and of itself wasn’t exactly like me. I rarely went along with the crowd, and I even more rarely engaged in any activity where I wasn’t guaranteed close to 100% success, but the sway of my friends was just too much to resist when it came to athletics.
Two days in, my 12 year body realized a level of soreness and pain I never dreamed possible, and my 12 year old mind was frantically trying to backpedal out of what it deemed to be a huge mistake. I decided I wasn’t doing it, and I headed to our counselor’s office to get my schedule changed. But rather than get a quick rescue from the torture I was enduring, I got called into the principal’s office.
A little background for reference, if you peruse my past writings, you’ll know I grew up in a very small town. A town where my dad and his siblings spent most of their formative years. A town where both of my parents graduated from high school and returned to raise their own family after spending a little time spreading their wings in those college and early career years. A town where a large portion of my teachers and principals and coaches had been my parents’ teachers and principals and coaches.
Also, it’s important to note I was never, and I mean never, called to the principal’s office, but Mr. G (name shortened for privacy), my middle school principal, and I were good friends. I loved Mr. G dearly. He knew my family very well. He had been one of my dad’s most influential coaches and teachers and had put up with more shenanigans from my dad (and I’m sure all five of his siblings) than he ever deserved. But I had never been known as one who pulled “shenanigans”. I was fully convinced that Mr. G was going to save me from my self imposed athletic punishment.
Only he didn’t.
He called me into his office, and he said something along the lines of, “Miss McCrary I hear you want out of athletics?” And as I very dramatically and somewhat tearfully pleaded my case with him . . . the struggle is real when you’re 12 and stuck in athletics y’all . . . he hid a smile behind the sternest look he could pull off, and then he firmly, but definitely not unkindly, said, “No.” No he was not going to let me quit. Not because he was mean, but because he knew that letting me quit would be a mistake. It wouldn’t teach me to finish what I started. He knew I may not love it, but being in athletics was doing me no harm. And I absolutely could do it. He also knew it would make me think . . . it did . . . before going along with the crowd in the future. And just in case I was wondering, he knew my parents would agree with him.
I’m so thankful that Mr. G didn’t give in to my 12 year old demands that day.
That was the year, I learned that I could do hard things, and I didn’t have to be the best in order to be successful. That was the year I learned that I could enjoy exercise just for the sake of exercising . . . once I got over that initial soreness. That not winning wasn’t the end of the world. That I may not be the best athlete, but I was darn good at keeping stats, and running a mile or two wasn’t as difficult as I originally thought. I learned that putting yourself out there and taking risks comes in all different forms, and you really do need to stop and think before you go along with crowd.
The next year, I didn’t sign up for athletics, but it was a decision discussed and decided ahead of time. For me, I was perfectly happy being a “band nerd” and color guard member and participating in academic, rather than athletic, competitions. But I’ve never forgotten that day in 7th grade or the many lessons I learned in my short career as a middle school athlete. And though it took a few years, I now appreciate the “never quit” values that were instilled in me that year.
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