A Nerd in a Football School

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In the Fall of 1980, I had it all figured out. I was a Junior at Medford Senior High School, the big leagues. My GPA was perfect and I was looking forward to my AP classes, science club, and the debate team. I grinned when I found my locker, #B69. Chad, the Varsity football captain grunted and elbowed me as he opened his locker, #B68. Calvin Klein’s Obsession assaulted my senses as I turned to see the most popular girl in the school, Mandy, the Captain of the Varsity Cheerleaders, primping in a mirror on her locker, #B70. My stomach churned. An icepick entered my eye and buried itself deep in my brain. You see, I was a nerd in a Football school.

Football is no joke in Medford, Oregon. A couple of years before, the small town of Medford had two highschools with about 300 kids per class. And Portland always kicked their butt in Football. The town fathers had had enough and split the schools into 9/10 (Junior High school) and 11/12 (Senior High School), effectively doubling the pool for Varsity sports. The plan worked, Medford Senior High School ruled the rankings in AAA Varsity sports across the board.

The entire social hierarchy of the town revolved around Varsity sports. Junior High had felt like a continuation of middle school. Senior High was where the action was. And I had finally made it. Or had I?

Chad scowled at me and slammed his locker. Mandy ignored me. I wondered if I could escape into my locker. Instead, I quietly closed mine and shoved off to Debate class.

We had a new Debate Team teacher, Terry Rose. Mr. Rose was a fireplug of a guy. Well built and confident. Owned oil wells in Texas. Had shot a tiger in Africa once. Been a speechwriter for a President. Came to Medford to retire, grow some pears and teach.

After class, I stopped by his desk.

“Welcome to Medford”

“Thank you. How are you, Martin.” What? Did he know my name?

“Good,” I paused. “But I have a locker problem.” I just blurted it out. Why? What does he care?

“Really? Tell me about it.” And he leaned back in his chair, inviting me with his hand to the chair beside the desk. What the hell? No teacher has ever given me more than platitudes.

“Uh, well it’s complicated.” I sat down and hugged my backpack. “I am stuck. Literally boxed in. Don’t know what to do. You see, Chad, the football captain has the locker on my left, and Mandy, the cheerleader captain has the locker to the right. They are the two most popular people in school. And who the hell am I? I hate football. Cheerleaders are way too energetic, they scare me. I feel paralyzed. What am I supposed to do?”

“Not making a decision is a decision. Find your own path. And stop paying attention to what other people are doing, it just makes you annoying.”

I sat in confused silence. Mr. Rose smiled. The bell rang.

“Uh, ok, thanks” I offered and shoved off to science club.

What the hell was he talking about? Not making a decision is a decision? Hadn’t he ever been stuck? Don’t care what other people are doing? Isn’t that what high school was about? Life is about?

The words simmered in my brain over the next few months. Eventually, they started to make sense. Engines fired up. Gears started turning. I ran for President of the Science Club. And won. I entered the state debate competition. And won. I cracked a joke to Mandy. She laughed.

My path started to open up before me. Senior year, my picture was in the yearbook with the caption “Most likely to invent the time machine.” In college, I double-majored in business and computer science just as the personal computer market was getting started. Turns out, the world needed a few more nerds like me.

I saw Chad at the reunion. Assistant Manager at the grocery store. Still driving the Camero. Mandy married a dentist and plays tennis on the weekends.

I found my own path. For the last 40 years, whenever I am stuck, Terry whispers in my ear: “Not making a decision is a decision.” And I figure out what to do next. What the next right action is. How to keep going down my own path. One foot in front of the other. Not caring what other people think. Thank you, Terry, where ever you are.