by Bud Finlayson
Post Play Drudgery, Stickball, and Hay Field Wisdom
I declined from trying out for the basketball team that year. I wasn't cut out to be a non-contact-sport participant, for I could never keep from fouling out. Besides, I didn't want to fall behind in my conditioning for the next football season, so I jumped right into the off season with a passion to excel.
Everyday was the same old grind, but we were kept guessing as to how much and how long we would be out there. One could never assume a certain thing. You could never think, "We'll do this, and this, and this and then go home." There was always a nervous feeling, every day, as to exactly how much torture we were to be put through. We might start out by jogging a lap or two to get loosened up, then the weight stations and then bleachers. But it could be 20 or 30 or 40, we never knew till we were through.
The same with agility drills, stick fighting, wrestling, wind sprints, and cross country runs. As a result, you didn't have the luxury of being able to pace yourself and dole out your efforts accordingly. You had to go full throttle from the time they growled that first, "HO!!!", until they said, "take it to the house", and you never knew when that was.
It was a real drag that no one enjoyed, but we plowed through it out of duty. And anyone with any salt to him wouldn't dare admit that he couldn't take it by quitting. Most halfheartedly slipped through the drills and exercises except when they thought a coach had his eye on them, then they would put out. It was hard to get pumped up when the season was not until the next school year, but that's what was expected of us every day by the coaches. There were those though, that hustled and I fit primarily into that group. I mostly did it out of instinct, but also I did it so there would be no possible way that the coaches could ever claim any cowardice or lack of effort on my part. I would give them no chance to humiliate me again.
As we slowly dragged through those cold, gray winter months, my strength indeed began to build. I started to get serious on attempting to make the Bench Press Club, but the minimum requirement had been raised from 200 pounds. to 240. The following increments were 280 and 340, because the old weights had become too easy. A year earlier I was proud of putting up 140, but now I was nearing 200. In time 200 became routine, and finally, with Coach Lucky as a witness I put up 240 and gained membership into the club.
In a few days, they'd hung up my freshly painted name-plate with 'FINLAYSON' on it, under the 240 group on the plywood sign, outside the field house. There it was for everybody to see as they drove in and out of the big parking lot behind the school. Probably fewer really noticed my name than I would have liked to thought, but it was always a proud accomplishment. Later on though, I would realize that it really didn't reflect how good a football player one was.
My friend, Marc, who was a head taller and 40 pounds heavier than I; and who played JV that year, going on to start the next two years on varsity, would never get his name up on that board. On the other hand, there were a couple of naturally strong country boys, with little football savvy that would warm the bench every year, and they were members of the 280 and 340 levels. No matter what, it was a proud moment when I got up that 240 in Coach Lucky's presence, for I still desired his respect.
The drudgery of the off season was worsening as the sunshine of spring began to put some warmth and a little color into the early days of March. That also was an indicator to all that love sport in this country, that it was nearing the season of baseball. Although, football was my ultimate dream, I had been always an avid summer-league baseball player since my youth. Try outs for the two high school teams, varsity and junior varsity, were about to begin, but I had no interest in going out for either one.
One day, as we labored through the weight stations, Marc suggested that we both try out. At first I was shocked at his audacity; to even consider abandoning the football work outs, that were going to enable us to reach our goal of state champs. You see, baseball in most Texas schools, where football is king, is regarded as somewhat an effeminate sport along with golf, tennis, and basketball; by those whom can not think beyond the realm of football. And of these, there are quite a few.
Even though I enjoyed the heck out of playing baseball, I didn't want to be scorned as a sissy "Stick ]" as they were called by the football coaches. But Marc was persistent in his suggestion, claiming that we wouldn't loose anything, and that the upcoming football season was far into the future, giving us ample time during the summer to get stronger. He said that we probably wouldn't make the cut, but that it would be fun to try. If Marc, who was sure to start on varsity in football next year, was willing to try out for baseball, then I'd give it a shot, too. He said to screw coach Lucky if he didn't like it.
I was soon to learn an unspoken law of high school football policy in Texas. When the potential of a certain youngster is recognized, he from that time on relinquishes the control of his fate to a football coach. But the kid doesn't know he is being manipulated. Usually he is so eager to excel, he ignores the brain washing and string pulling, to make him reach that full potential, yet only for the benefit of the team. 'It's a team sport, baby, and you got to make sacrifices.'
In Marc's case, I knew that he was a sure bet to make the JV baseball team, but I doubted whether I'd make it, for he could hit better and field better than I. He played first base, kind of a ] Powell or Rusty] , and besides, he'd grown up in ] playing Little League and Babe Ruth ball. Not that I was that poor of a player, but Marc just seemed to play with more authority. Who knows? Marc Johnson might have hit 700 home runs, and made a million dollars in the big leagues, but because of the decision of one high school football coach to make him a football player, he would be destined not to.
Marc didn't make the cut but I did. It was not officially claimed so by Lucky, until a year later, but at the time everyone knew why Marc didn't make it. Football rules in Texas, and God help the poor JV baseball coach that tries to interfere with the plans of a head varsity football coach trying to keep his job and at the same time build a winning team and return the dynasty status to a one time district champ. Marc was shuffled back to where he belonged, like a card being dealt off the bottom of the deck, Lucky would take no chances with the mere luck of the draw. He stacked the deck in his favor.
I thought of where that left me, not with much regard for the future coming years in the Mustang football picture. I was perfectly expendable to let go play baseball. It turned out though, that I failed to make the first string, and I rode the bench through the first 3 or 4 games. Then guilt and frustration started to settle in. There I was, just getting fat and lazy, and not even contributing to the baseball team, while in the mean-time, the football players were getting that much tougher, leaner, and meaner.
The only rational thing seemed left to do was to quit baseball, where I wouldn't be missed anyway, and rejoin the off-season football. I turned in my spikes with little regret, for I knew morally I was doing the right thing returning to football, and getting out of that sissy sport as perceived by ] .The first day, when I turned my stuff in, the off season guys had already run their warm-up lap and were going through the weight stations.
Well, I knew the routine, so I slipped right in as if I'd never left and grabbed the wooden peg with the weights linked to it by a strap, that was held out in front of one's chest with both arms strait; parallel to the ground. Then the weights were raised by means of twisting the stick with both fists clenched around the dowel, making the strap wind around and around.
Well, I was winding that weight up and down as fast as I could with a grin from ear to ear, for it felt so good to be back. No guilt whatsoever. And then big Bill Lucky caught sight of me and came lumbering over. My grin got even wider, for I knew he would be proud that I had seen my error of straying away, and that I'd returned to pay my dues. His big, wrinkly, square face came nearer with a look of utter surprise, and as he opened his tobacco stained mouth I prepared myself to be showered with praise, but instead I was chastised.
"What are you doing over here, baby! I thought you were playing stick ball!," he bellowed. "I was, coach," I answered, "But since I wasn't starting I came back over here to get in better shape for football." I figured that would convince him, but he just bugged out his eyes in disbelief at me and contorted, "You mean to tell me that you QUIT the baseball team! I can't believe you went and QUIT! I never thought I'd see the day that I could call Bud Finlayson a quitter!!" "But coach, I thought I'd done right to come back over here to devote all my energies back into football," I reasoned.
"Baby, I don't care if you're playing Tiddly-Winks, once you've set out to do something, you see it through till the end, you don't go and quit!," he roared, and spit a big stream of brown tobacco juice and saliva out of the corner of his mouth, and returned his cold stare upon me, as if to drive home his point better. As I stood limp, shocked and stunned at his reaction, he then began to shake his head out of disgust and spit again, and told me as long as I'd already quit and I was back, that I might as well stop standing around and get after it.
I moved on to the next station, curls, and Lucky sauntered off, leaned back, and without addressing anyone in particular, let loose a holler, "Alright, alright, alright. Baby! Let's pump some iron. Gotta' get stronger for next year to beat them Buccaneers!!!" (former district champs) Not many really heard him, for the loud clatter of rattling weights had drowned out his voice and besides no one was paying much attention to him.
Spring football training was just around the corner, when we work out in full pads for a couple of weeks, then have a scrimmage to evaluate our performance. That year, everybody was worked out as one large team, with no distinctions of varsity or junior varsity. So, I wasn't clued as to where I would be the next year, but my chances were as good as any to make varsity, I thought.
If I had a chance it would be at nose-guard, for the varsity incumbent for two years had graduated and the position was open. There would be seniors competing for the same job but I knew I could whoop the ones that vied for nose guard. In the final scrimmage, I was platooned, along with others into the first string defense, and I felt I'd proven my worth. No positions were assigned at that time, but the coaches had all summer to think about it and review films taken of the practice game. I spent the summer again in a hay field building my strength and sharpening my wits.
I'd completed my sophomore year in school and about the only thing that mattered to me besides football and girls was making a little spending money. I'd bought myself a '66 Ford pickup with a short bed and a little 6 cyllinder engine and she was my Rocinante. Charlie Morgan, our former summer employer, didn't have a hay crew that year, so Marc and I went our separate ways in search of work.
I signed on with a school buddy, whose dad hauled other people's hay for them. We drove all over the county in his two ton flatbed, boasting to be the best and fastest hay crew around. We were all athletes and were in it for the conditioning as well as the five cents per bale. We were myself, Fred Green, Roy D. Ellison, and Billy jr., who's dad, Billy Guerrero sr. was the boss man. I found myself in an interesting situation, as an East Texas redneck, for here I was taking orders from a Chicano, and working side by side as equals with two Black fellows.
We were all teammates and therefore friends, and when we really got hustling, we could haul some hay. There existed not much friction between us. I gave Fred and Roy D. both lifts to work, and what prejudices we retained, we kept them inside, or we made it a point to lash out at each other in jest and it was all taken in fun. I was clearly labeled as "Honkey", Fred and Roy D. were the "Niggers" and Billy Jr. was "Meskin Pepper-belly.".
All day long we would shout abuses, and push one another to work harder and harder, to prove or disprove the prowess of each particular skin color. As it turned out, no one group proved to outdo the other. On one day I let them get the best of me and it resulted in a scuffle.
We were loading hay into an upper barn loft, and I elected to do the stacking. It is always somewhat of a macho challenge to stack because you have two, sometimes three people, passing bales to you and you have to keep up your speed and see that the haystack grows uniformly and upright. That day Billy was throwing off the truck into Fred, who relayed them along to Roy D., who passed them on to me. We were going fast and furious, with barely time to speak, but every once in a while Roy D. would give it to me, "C'mon Honkey let's go! We're waiting on you. Can't you cut it! You're falling behind!"
In fact I was struggling, the three of them were easily able to unload faster than I could arrange the bales into a stack. I retaliated none-the-less, "Keep 'em commin' nigger boy!, Hurry it up!, Can't you get 'em to me any faster than that!" I guess he could because he did, and before I knew it, I was surrounded knee-deep in stray bales. Roy D. just grinned, his white teeth flashing and his sweaty, coal-black skin, shinning.
I was standing a few layers of bales higher than he, and out of utter frustration, picked one of the awaiting bales up over my head and thrust it down on him with a cry of "Kiss ass you big, black mother fucker!" The 100-pound missile knocked Roy D. back off his feet and to the floor of the loft. As the dust and straw flew everywhere I pounced down to where he lay and stood at the ready with fists clenched and determined to settle things once and for all.
The dust had dulled the gleam of his sweat, where he'd rolled on the floor, and his nappy afro was full of hay stubble, but his white teeth were like a ray of hope entering my life as he smiled at the sight of me. There I was, my face contorted in anger shouting curses and ready to defend myself against that black savage, when he spoke these words:, "I know it ain't ner none your's fault, how you is, it's jes de way you been raised."
I immediately dropped my guard, being rendered defenseless, as if being hit by a brick wall and responded, "Roy D., I believe you're right." Billy Jr. quickly got us back to work and there was never to be a grievance between us again.
For the rest of that day I couldn't get those words out of my mind. It was actually a very simple observation, but the profoundness of it was effectively changing my outlook of racial prejudice. Here-to-before I had never given Roy D. much credit as to being blessed with a great deal of intelligence, but it took his understanding to make me realize a great truth about myself and others.
Most, and myself, whom retain certain prejudiced beliefs, do so out of ignorance that is supported by biased propaganda. Once I understood that I was merely a product of negative conditioning, and that it was misinformation, I was able to look around me and formulate my own opinions on these dark skinned people my Dad called "Niggers". It began to carry over into lots of other areas, and I thank Roy D. for his tolerance and wisdom for they made a better man out of me. It was as if a terrific weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Meantime, my boss, Mr. Guerrero was opening my mind to other realities about the wholesome football program at Lamar Cons. If I had worked for him two years prior, and heard his claims, I wouldn't have listened. But now that I had become somewhat disillusioned with the system, I was primed and ready to hear them. Mr. Guerrero was never one to play the role of a submissive minority in a Gringo world. He was not a revolutionary, but did believe that he was just as good as the next man, regardless of color, and he didn't hesitate to speak his mind.
About the dealings of the high school's athletic program, in particular of Lucky, he had very definite opinions. It was all a matter of politics, he said. Lucky merely played into the hands of the rich and influential in the community. Extra favors and privileges, and guaranteed starting positions for their offspring. It was making sense to me why some guys would sit out practices because of so-called injuries, and start in games on Friday nights; when others, who had worked all week would ride the bench, even though possessing equal ability but less affluence.
Mr. Guerrero said he had personally seen money change hands up at the field house, on the sly of course. Even contributions of orange drink and doughnuts, during morning workouts, were merely bribes so that "Junior" would see some action.
Maybe the charges seem farfetched, but I began to relate them to my own situation. I had moved to that town and had not established myself as the son of a predominate figure, having a step-father who was constantly unemployed. In turn, it seems that I was time and again overlooked when seeking advancement to the varsity team, when I honestly felt I could contribute. Why was I constantly being denied, even though I always put forth the 110% effort that was asked of me?
All these things began to play on my mind and as the summer went by, the more my boss spoke of Lucky's corruptness, the more it seemed to be all too clear that he spoke the truth. As my junior year of school started, I was more than ready to expose any injustices that I saw evident.
End of Chapter 12
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