Monday, April 24, 2017

The Team

I was 14 when I landed my first non-baby sitting job. The City of Corvallis, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department hired me, along with another teenager, to coach the experimental "Snoopy League" baseball team, which was comprised of four-year-olds. We didn't exactly play baseball, it was more of a baseball-themed summer camp, and the program was discontinued the following year, but it was my foot in the door. For the next three summers I worked as a baseball coach, first as an assistant, then as a "head" coach, responsible for teams of boys and girls ranging in age from five to 14.

It was a nine to five job. One summer I even added a second "shift" as scorekeeper for adult league softball which meant I was turning in time sheets claiming 12 hours a day, a practice that was banned when one of the secretaries complained that I was making more than her. For a kid like me, it was glorious: baseball all day long, every day, outside, in the sun, with all those kids, some of whom were girls quite close to my age, looking up to me. Even at the time, I knew I was living a dream.

I coached other teams at other times, but those three years were foundational for me, and to this day you can hear echoes in the halls of Woodland Park of what I learned on the dusty fields at Avery and Chintimini Parks. 

To this day, I would say that my "teaching style" is more coach than teacher, at least when compared to the stereotypes that go with each discipline. As a coach, I would show up each morning, get out the gear, install the bases, then wait for the kids to show up, much the way I do it today as a teacher. I must have planned some drills and activities, but what we primarily did was what most baseball teams do, practice the skills we were going to need for games: fielding ground balls, judging pop flies, throwing, running bases, pitching, catching, and, of course, hitting. I reckon I gave the kids some tips and strategy here and there, but mostly I counted on repetition and their own motivation to "teach" them how to play. My job, as I did it, was to "chatter" our way through our drills and games, give pep talks full of phrases like "Come on, everybody!" and "Let's do our best!" and generally keep it fun.

There was no pressure to win or lose, our bosses didn't care and the parents were sanguine. (There was another baseball league in town, Boys and Girls Club, that wore proper uniforms instead of just matching t-shirts, that attracted "those kinds" of parents.) No, more important was balancing playing time so that everyone more or less played the same amount. We were happy when we won and philosophical when we lost. And we cheered for one another, loudly and a lot, because whatever happened we were all in this together.

As a teacher, I've become more focused on individual children, more aware of them as individuals than I ever did as a coach, for whom "the team" always comes first, but much of what I do each day can be traced back to those years coaching Parks and Rec baseball, helping those individual children come together. And truth be told, that's still the main focus for me as a teacher, the team, although today I'm more likely to refer to it as "our community," because without that, we as individuals are lost.

I'm still living the dream.

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