Bill Long 7/30/06
In Honor Of Judge Jack Nevin
When you say the word "1968" to a person of my generation (born in 1952), s/he is supposed to intone ritually, "Yes, I remember--when Martin and Bobby were assassinated." Then someone will suggest singing a round of "Has anybody here seen my good friend John (Martin)," someone else will talk about Viet Nam or the Democratic Convention in Chicago or the Summer of Love in San Francisco (actually 1967) or related themes. The year 1968 is thus supposed to be a year where American culture faced enormous growing pains, or saw itself for what it really is, or something to that effect. For me, however, as I look back on 1968, I see something completely different: I see, in many ways, the best year of my life (until September 1968), a sort of physical annus mirabilis. The purpose of these two essays is to tell you why this is true.
Oh, one word on why I am thinking about 1968 (more particularly, March-May 1968) at the end of July 2006. As I said in another essay, every time I write a new essay, I retreat mentally one week deeper into my past. That is, even though I in fact write more than one essay per week, I imagine myself writing one essay per week, and then figure out the time when a particular essay would have been written had I written one essay per week. This essay is # 1995 and would have been penned sometime early in March 1968 (all you have to do is patiently go through the math). At times I can "run the tape" of a particular week from my past through my mind. I can do so with respect to Spring 1968 because it marked one of the few times in my life where I have felt like an unqualified success. Very few people know this story. It is a very small story in many ways and, in fact, it is important to no one but me. But, here it is.
Setting the Context--Athletic Success in 1967-68
When I moved from Connecticut to the San Francisco Bay Area in September 1967, one of the ways I established myself in my new context was through athletics. I went out for and made the sophomore football team at Menlo-Atherton HS and actually ended up making all league that year (Honorable Mention). People didn't exactly turn their heads, but I did feel, in my 15 year-old way, that I was establishing myself in my new location. Then, in the Winter, I knew I would throw the shot for the track team, and I eagerly anticipated that opportunity.
The track coach at Menlo-Atherton, Plato Yanicks, was utterly committed to his trade. One of his signal contributions to the M-A track program was publishing every year a book (about 150 pages) of all the records for all the events and all the classifications (Freshman, Sophomore, Varsity) in Menlo-Atherton history. And, this book just didn't mention the name, year and distance/time of the holder of the record; it went about 10 deep in every event. And then, it did an analysis of all the Menlo-Atherton track athletes for the year, citing their potential and challenges. It was the most impressive piece of track & field research I could imagine and still think it the most sophisticated high school track documents I have ever seen. I eagerly pored through the book, and realized that the Sophomore record for the shot put at M-A was held by Larry Kennedy, the only man from M-A up until that time to win an NCAA title in a track & field event (actually the discus), and the current (1967) record-holder of the shot put at 58'4" (12 lb.). His Sophomore mark was 43'7 1/2" (12 lb.). I had no idea whether I could "break" that record, but when I saw it in the book in January 1968, I knew for the first time in life what it was to pursue a goal with all my heart.
Earlier Shot Put Experience
I had only begun to put the shot during my 9th grade year (at Middlesex Junior High School, Darien, CT). Like most junior high boys, I was entranced with football, and actually managed to do fairly well on the gridiron for two years in 8th and 9th grade. When I started putting the shot in the Spring of 1966, I was not very good, even though I was interested in improving. We threw the 8 lb. shot in junior high, and I threw it about 37 or 38' in 9th grade. Since you usually subtract about 8-10 feet as you "move up" to the next weight category, my mark would have corresponded to a thoroughly unimpressive 28' or so with the 12 lb. shot.
Yet something "clicked" for me the summer after my 9th grade year (Summer of 1967). While still in Connecticut, I became consumed with the desire to become a good shot putter. Every day in the summer I would walk to my local elementary school with my 12 lb. shot, draw a circle in the dirt, and begin to put the shot in an small grassy field behind one of the wings of the school. I brought along my father's 100' long metal tape measure so that I could mark how I was doing. I recall going down to the school nearly every day that summer and spending hours throwing the shot. I think my mother was grateful to have me out of the house. The school custodian would come out from his labors and look at me quizically while taking a break. Friends, who dropped into my home and were informed by my mother that I was down at the school, would come visit me while I was putting the shot, and they tried (unsuccessfully) to lure me away from my newfound love. On one occasion they thought they would "join me," but after each one of them put the shot one round, they left me alone. In fact, one of them put it about 15' and broke my father's stretched out metallic tape measure. How do I know? Because I sheepishly had to tell my father that night that his tape was broken precisely at 15'6''.
I saw some improvement during the summer. Gradually I could throw 28' and then 30'. I moved to about 33' by the beginning of August (we would be leaving for the West Coast on about August 24). On my last day of shot putting, when the moving van was all packed, I put all my energy into it and, perhaps as my valedictory to Connecticut and the East, heaved it about 37'. I remember it distinctly as if it was yesterday...
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long