Crossing the Athletic Line

Murree was not kind to children who could not cross the “Athletic Line”. Sports played a big role in both the school community as well as “popularity potential”. In the fall, when leaves were changing from green to gold there was field hockey for the girls and flag football for the guys. As November came, and the cold stone classrooms held the smell of kerosene from tiny heaters working overtime to offer at least a bit of heat, athletes kept warm on the sports fields playing soccer. And in the spring basketball teams for both girls and boys were formed.

I could not cross the athletic line. From the time I could remember, whether the game was Capture the Flag or Steal the Bacon, I was last to be picked for any team. I dreaded standing in line and waiting…waiting…waiting as girls and boys were one by one picked to join a team. It inevitably came down to one or two of us and the silent prayer “Please God, let them pick me, don’t let me be last, not this time God…”. And sometimes that prayer was answered, although the older I got the more I realized there were most probably competing prayers prayed in those dreadful moments and wondered how God decided the outcome. Was it like picking a daisy and pulling off the petals the way a preteen decides whether the boy in question “loves me or loves me not?”.

Sometimes my prayer was answered. Other times the person standing with me was picked and I could hear the audible sigh the minute their name was called. I dared not glance up to see their look of pity as they awkwardly ran to take their place. It is easy to both write and laugh about this now. To my knowledge, no matter how good anyone at Murree was at sports, none went on to compete professionally. In other words, they were good, but they weren’t that good. Their achievements were limited to our small school “nestled ‘neath the great Himalayas” and faded black and white photos showing teams lined up in green and white uniforms are all that’s left of their athletic prowess.

There was one time when I made it on to the girls soccer team. In my junior year of high school, the Walsh girls were unable to attend an inter-school tournament at the end of the semester as they lived in Bangladesh and had already booked flights back home. The Walsh girls served as a reminder that life was not fair. They were beautiful, smart, kind, and athletic, capturing the imagination of every boy at Murree and the envy of many of us girls. That year, I got to take their place on the soccer field and go to the tournament and play my hardest. The trade was unfair.

All of this was years ago, and is easy to laugh and write about now, but at the time it held all the pain of adolescent angst. What is interesting about this memory of waiting to be picked for a team is that I still have my moments of feeling exactly as I did during those years of being picked last. To the outside eye I am successful. I have achieved success in my career, I never worry about my sports ability but enjoy physical activity, and I have an amazing family. But the “Please God, pick me, pick me” times come around every once in a while, like I am on the sidelines of being picked for a team, waiting while the captain looks us over making their decisions based on what they know of our athletic skill, except it’s no longer athletic skill, it’s “ability to do life” skill. I’m feeling a bit like this now.

This too shall pass. Thankfully I’m old enough to learn that while I feel like a child, I have the choice to respond as an adult. That means I’ll hold my head high until my name is called.

A friend, Pat, who attended Murree for only one year, the year after I graduated, posted a quote under her yearbook picture that I’ve tried to recall for years. It goes something like this:

Just when I think I’m all grown up, I learn some astounding fact of life and feel like a child who thinks she’s mastered the art of tying her shoes, only to realize that one loop doesn’t make a bow.

18 thoughts on “Crossing the Athletic Line

  1. I was always, always, always picked last. I hated it. I always tried to make light of it, make a joke, distract the despondent heart with a quick witted quip…but the pain of it never really went away. When I list all the other things I was involved in to my kids (who to this day regret my lack of athletic prowess) they still smirk and smile and remind me there were only 5 in our class! Oh dear… it was a small world in a far off place with big hurts in nearby hearts! Onward, O Soul, to healing and health!

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  2. Hey Marilyn, I hesitate to comment (coming from another generation). However, I have to say that I know a lot of those “sport rejects” who are now running marathons with speed, grace, poise, and everlasting pride to their school, family, and friends. Who knows, perhaps those very feelings of rejection spurred them on to excel and triumph in the race that continues. Those of us on the sidelines are cheering you along as you continue the race. By the way, I like all the above comments and Paul and Tom gave perspective I appreciate. Little Gumnut said it well in her last line.
    Thanks. I’m mighty proud of ya’ll!!

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    1. Bettie – coming from another generation gives you wisdom that is needed! thanks for the comment and I too love the picture of long distance running rather than sprints.

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  3. Oh there’s so much to say! Yes, your post brought it all back to me. I dreaded that moment when it was announced that captains would pick teams because I knew I would be last… again and it felt like personal rejection. Sometimes I think it WAS. People didn’t just pick on athletic ability but on popularity and who their friends were. We also had the ghastly thing of ‘beauty contests’ in boarding where the girls (egged on by one or two people) would gang up on whoever was out of the room at that particular moment and would all choose someone to ‘win’. When the person came back in, a contest would be staged with rigged voting. Not nice at all.

    On the sports side, I do wish that there had been someone to encourage us ‘wimps’ to practice, to help us get the hang of sports. I now have the unfortunate reaction of If I can’t do it straight away, I don’t even want to try! My brother on the other hand ran the ridicule gauntlet of trying a new sport, persevered and as a result got quite good at it.

    I dreaded Sports Day until the day I discovered enjoyed long distance and not sprints.

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    1. The beauty contest sounds horrific….! I do agree that in a boarding school setting it feels more of a personal rejection. Love your thoughts. Would love to have you carry on with this theme in another blog post on Little Gumnut!

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    2. I discovered early on in my Sports Day career that, if I picked running sports, I got eliminated the Saturday before Sports Day, leaving me free to enjoy the day…it was a great discovery…saved me a lot of humiliation!

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  4. I also struggled with not be good at or interested in sports at MCS. I don’t think it is as big an emphasis any more — of course there are only 45 students. I still hate to be in a situation where all the guys start playing basketball or football. I liked to dance — square dance, folk dance, worship dance. I’m thankful that my sons have enjoyed sports enough to be able to play comfortably with friends — it makes life easier. When I was in Seminary I went to a men’s retreat where all of the examples were about football and they made fun of men who like to watch Olympic ice skating or dance — making me wonder what was wrong with me. So its not an issue or problem that was unique to MCS.

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    1. Great comment. Cliff and I were just talking about this. He got so sick of going to retreats where the only illustrations ever given were of football. And you are right – it’s not unique to MCS. I think the difference is that at MCS we all lived together, so after the game, you shared a meal and sometimes a room with whoever was captain of said team! It forced quick recovery and moving on! Thanks so much for reading.

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    2. I got your comment! I can’t believe you posted it so long ago and for some reason I didn’t see it – forgive me. Using just sports, particularly major sports, as illustrations is a singularly American thing to do, don’t you think? With brothers who were intellectual, not athletic, they faced a bit of the same thing. I think about your astounding gifts of music and dance and what a loss it would be if you didn’t have them. So good to see you this weekend. Wish we had more time to really talk but the bit we had was a gift. Love to Pat and can’t wait to see both of you.

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  5. Hi Marilyn,

    For what it’s worth, I found it just as difficult to cross the ‘drama line’ (or, for that matter, the ‘choir line’ when they were preparing to go on a particularly fun tour). Jonathan has a particularly funny story about how he got to be Gregor Ralston’s page turner for the choir tour. I was supposed to be the page turner, but broke my leg, so Jonathan got to go in my place.

    In my recollection, there were some who seemed to be good at everything, and some who struggled just to make it to substitute status (or didn’t feel able to participate at all . . .). I was a very average clarinet player, but made it into MCS lore because of a flying squirrel that appeared just at the right time to distract the audience from my squeaks . . .

    Love,
    Tom

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    1. I still remember the flying squirrel but also remember you being quite good at both singing and the clarinet. Maybe it was the eyes of a sister who looked up to her brother! You are absolutely right – as someone else remarked on facebook it all depends on who’s writing that first sentence whether it’s athletic, scholastic or arts line

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