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Perilous Monk

Life Lessons in Football, Mathematics and Cheerleaders

     It was fall 1980.

I know this because it was also the fall of my senior year at Saranac Lake High School.

     Life as a high school senior for me was firing on all cylinders. I had a part-time job working nights and weekends slinging pizza slice pies at Dagwoods. My varsity football career had blossomed. As Coach Raymond’s duly anointed team ‘Monk”, I was actually on the field for some playing time other than special teams and no longer relegated exclusively to left bench. I had college applications pending at Cornell, Georgetown and Paul Smith’s.  I had even somehow just managed to get elected Senior Class President.

     Getting elected class president happened more or less by accident. It wasn’t even my idea. I have to give credit for that brainstorm to my friend Chris. Which was about par for the course.  Most of the high school capers and schemes I found myself mired in originated with him.  He was at one and the same time both my very best friend and a very bad influence.

     The whole class president caper started when nominations were being made and Chris made a comment.

“How come the girls always win these things? I think for a change one of us guys should run.”

I responded by making a suggesting to Chris.

“Hey man, why don’t you run?”

Chris responded;

“Me?! I can’t run. My parents are both teachers.  I could never get elected.  Half our class hates me.  Why don’t you run, Monk? I‘ll be your campaign manager. We’ll at least get all the seniors on the football team to vote for you.”  

     So that’s how that went. Monk ran for senior class president, with his best friend Chris as campaign manager. We really didn’t have any particular presidential platform to speak of, or goals, or agenda, for that matter, other than to beat whatever girls ran against us.  I did quickly realize though, that given my somewhat dubious academic achievements, “Senior Class President” was a pretty key resume builder for an aspiring Monk’s college applications.

     On the gridiron, Coach Raymond had promoted Monk from left bench. I had a spot on nearly every special team, even got my hands on the ball a few times for kick-off returns. Which was a good thing, because it was still gonna be seventeen cold days in hell before Fobare ever even remotely considered throwing Monk the ball.

   Monk even made two early season starts at defensive end, when one of our regular starters, Cates or Bach, somehow ended up sidelined for a bit because they had either gotten sick or were injured.

     Defensive end was a perfect position for me. I was small, fairly quick, liked to hit, and had gotten toughened up a whole lot crashing through the line in Monk’s practice squad role as human tackling dummy.

    Coach Raymond’s defensive ends had no outside responsibility, which was just fine with me. Monk may not have known whether the ball was blown up or stuffed, but at defensive end, Monk did not have to. All I had to do was line up on the opponents’ outside down lineman and give him one good hard hit on my way through the line as I crashed to the ball.

     Monk made several tackles in that role, and even caused a fumble against either Canton or Potsdam that one of our own guys recovered.

     Yeah, life as a varsity football playing senior class president was firing on all cylinders for Monk.  And then Monk decided to complicate matters, set afire every plan, throw caution to the wind, live life on the edge, ignore all the warnings.

    Yeah, life as a senior was firing on all cylinders all right, until the day Monk decided it would be a good idea to start dating a cheerleader.

     Monk quickly realized that dating cheerleaders was a perilous endeavor. His fellow locker room jocks daily demanded to hear every detail. A little uncertain about the sudden celebrity status his new cheerleader girlfriend brought him, Monk tried his hardest to shuck, dodge and dive all the inquiries. He could sense that some of his teammates’ motives were questionable.  While half the team seemed to be simply drooling in stunned admiration, Monk suspected that some of the others were secretly making plans to get their hands on his pom-poms.

     It was a midweek afternoon, still relatively early in the season. The day’s final class had just ended.  Monk and his new cheerleader girlfriend linked up at her locker and decided to quietly sneak off to the grassy side hill just beyond the football squad’s back lot summer practice field to enjoy some fall sun before each of them had to go gear up and head off to practice.

     Now, at this point Monk’s world suddenly became a bit clouded. One minute, he was on the side hill with his cheerleader girlfriend and everything was going according to plan, the next minute he looked up to see all his teammates crossing the boards laid over the track oval’s surface as they crossed into the middle to circle up and begin calisthenics.

     Monk’s heartbeat stopped. Aghast, he realized he had lost track of time and was now on the verge of being late for Coach Raymond’s practice.

     In an adrenaline-fueled panic, Monk leapt up, raced to the team room, threw on his gear and flew as fast as he could across the parking lot to join his teammates on the practice field.

    Monk never stood a chance. Coach Raymond spotted him before he was even halfway across the parking lot. Monk was still donning his helmet when Coach confronted him at the end of the boards crossing the track onto the practice field.

     “Monk! You’re late!” Coach Raymond bellowed as he stood, arms crossed, jaw set, clipboard in one hand, whistle in the other, confronting Monk with that steel eyed glare.

     Now, at that moment, a smart Monk would have stopped in his tracks. A smart Monk would have been contrite, begged forgiveness, apologized immediately. A smart Monk would have said, “I’m really sorry Coach Raymond, I got distracted and somehow lost track of time. It won’t ever happen again.” A smart Monk would have dropped right then and there and just started knocking out seventeen thousand pushups.  But I was not that Monk.

     No… instead I was the Monk who decided it would be a far better idea at that moment in time, to challenge the accuracy of Coach Raymond’s watch, and his ability to read it.

     Well, that decision did not work out at all in that Monk’s favor.

“Monk! Turn in your gear! You’re off the team!”

     I stopped in my tracks. Monk’s whole world had just came crashing down. My brain suddenly turned back on.  I realized I had just made a fatal mistake. I dropped my head and turned to shuffle off one last time to the varsity team locker room.

     Stunned, in tears and devastated at my own stupidity, I stowed my pads & practice gear in my locker to be turned in to Coach Raymond at his office first thing the following morning.

     I felt lost. My Monk life was over. I needed someplace to hide.  Somehow, I ended up alone, sitting at a desk with my head in my hands, down in one of the underclass homerooms.

     I sat there alone for a while, sobbing and contemplating.

“What had I done? How could I have so badly lost track of time?  How could Monk be so stupid!?”

     At some point, I sensed that I was no longer alone. I lifted my head from my hands and looked up. There stood Mr. LaGasse, my math teacher, quietly studying me. I looked around and realized I had taken refuge in his classroom.

     Mr. LaGasse had been my homeroom teacher one year and my math teacher twice.  He was my trigonometry teacher my sophomore year and my calculus teacher that year as a senior. Despite the fact that math was far and away my least favorite subject, and my grades in his mathematics classes both years were absolutely abysmal, he was a very nice man and always seemed to like me.   

     He asked me why I was so upset and crying.  I explained what had just happened. Well, the late for practice and getting myself kicked off the team part anyway, I might have left out the reason.

     Mr. LaGasse listened quietly, but didn’t say much.  He could see that I was really upset and shortly thereafter allowed me to sit in solitude licking my wounds.

     I dragged myself home that night and went up to sulk some more in the refuge of my room. I didn’t say anything about what had happened to any of my friends or my parents. I didn’t know quite what I was going to do.  I only knew I was dreading showing up for school the next morning.

     Early the next day, before homeroom, I went down to the team locker room, gathered up my uniform, helmet, and gear and trudged up the stairs to hand them in to Coach Raymond in his office.

     Coach Raymond was already there waiting. He had that Coach Raymond look on his face. He met me outside his office door.

     Coach stood there momentarily, jaw set, staring right through me with that no nonsense gaze.  I tried to apologize and hand him my helmet. Coach Raymond cut me off in that gruff football coach voice of his.

“Monk, you’re just a stupid kid with a big mouth who’s way too big for his britches.  Now go stow your gear back in your locker and get off to class. You’d better not ever be late to one of my practices again. Now get out of my office before I change my mind.”

     I stood there stunned for a moment, in utter disbelief.  Monk had just been given a reprieve. A huge black cloud had just disappeared from my life as suddenly as it had appeared the day prior. I returned to my classroom feeling a grateful sense of relief.

     I spent a lot of time that morning contemplating what had just happened. I sensed that it had not been Coach Raymond’s original intention to commute my sentence. That just didn’t seem to fit my experience of his style.

No one ever said anything, and I never once asked, but I always suspected that I owed Coach Raymond’s change of heart to an intervention on my behalf by my math teacher, Mr. LaGasse.

     Determined to finish out my football career without further transgression, I returned to the locker room resolved to rededicate myself and redouble my on-field efforts through the rest of the season.

     I knew I had at least partially redeemed myself in Coach Raymond’s eyes a couple of weeks later. It was during Thursday night team game film night in Coach Plumadore’s basement. The team was busy munching on big bowls of popcorn. Coach Hogan, Coach Bell and Coach Plumadore were giving us team a pep talk lesson on the importance of intensity. Suddenly, Coach Raymond’s voice could be heard from the back of the room,

“From what I saw, Monk and that cheerleader girlfriend of his in the bleachers at the dance the other night was the definition of intensity.”

    Well, that was it.  The whole room burst out laughing. My best friend Chris was laughing so hard I thought he was going to dump our whole bowl of popcorn.

     Monk had to endure varsity team locker room jokes about intensity for the rest of the season. Truth be told though, to this day Monk has absolutely no idea what Coach Raymond was talking about.

     What I do know is this:

Monk learned three very important life lessons from that whole experience:

#1: Never be late for practice or talk back to the coach.

#2: Never underestimate the value of mathematics.

#3:  High school cheerleaders should be manufactured with warning labels.

Because when you’re a Monk,

dating cheerleaders is perilous.


Until Our Trails Cross Again: