After the attempted “suicide”, the half-mile foot race chasing a 9 year old to the edge of a lake on private property, the police visits removing kids from campus, a child attempting to break my nose with a little xylophone, the breaking up of innumerable fights, and Treyvonte’s constant (and occasionally successful) attempts to strip butt naked in the bathroom and parade around in front of the cafeteria in the buff, my career as an elementary music educator had come to an end.
I am nothing if not a traditionalist, and so I couldn’t have been more excited to find out that my two years of service would conclude with a time honored ritual. I was to play first base in the teachers v. 5th grade kickball tournament. As I entered the visitor’s dugout, I announced my strategy for victory. “My plan is to kick the ball hard and run fast. I’m also hoping for the chance to really nail one of these kids with the ball.” I took to the field and prepared for the first kicker not realizing that the incident that concluded my career would be more than I could ever imagine.
I really didn’t think the poor 5th graders had much of a chance playing against adults, but I had underestimated them. What they lacked in power, they made up for in cunning. The first pitch went rolling toward the plate, and the kid managed to send the ball right toward a pretty 1st grade teacher in the outfield. Ms. Alvarez eventually retrieved the ball and got it to the pitcher, but the boy had already made it to 1st base. To my surprise, the next kid made it on base too. We managed to finish off the inning, and the final out happened with a throw to first. I was playing a little off the base to prevent the ball from going to the outfield. I ran to the base and made the play loosing all my footwear in the process. At this point I realized two things.
1. Birkenstocks are not the best option for athletics.
2. This is why I’ve never seen hippies playing baseball.
As we got ready to kick, I decided to play the rest of the game barefoot. When it came to kicking, the teachers outmatched the 5th graders. We were able to send the ball far into the outfield and take several bases at a time. Inevitably, the 1st grade teachers, art specialists, and para’s have to get a turn, so it wasn’t long before I was in my position on 1st base again.
We managed to get the first kicker out, but the second one made it to 1st base. It was at this point that the incident happened that put the final touches on my elementary teaching career. I decided to move off the base again to prevent a ball making it to the “no man’s land” of librarians in the outfield. The pitch was rolled, the student made contact, and the kid of 1st base headed for 2nd. The ball flew through the air right to me, and I caught it in the shallow outfield. The kid that had been on 1st was almost to 2nd. He desperately began running back to 1st. By this time, I was blocking his path. I could have tagged 1st. I could have tagged him with the ball. I thought of that kid trying to break my nose with the xylophone. In a moment of freedom and joy, I chose the 3rd option and pegged the kid in the nuts with the ball. He went down on the ground, and the inning was over. I knew I had made the right choice.
I was immediately greeted by my colleagues. “Man, I can’t believe you did that!” I smiled and said, “It felt fantastic!.” In the next inning, a kid kicked a fast ground ball down the line. I scooped it up, and instead of tagging the base, I hurled it at his feet making sure that I threw the ball hard enough to take his legs out from under him when it hit. From that point in the game, all kicks went toward the 3rd base side of the field. After the game, the other teachers said, “You were taking out some frustration on those 5th graders today!” “Well, I announced, I’m leaving and going back to grad school anyway.” All of them were clearly envious of my courageous actions on the field.
A somewhat humiliated 5th grader approached me. He looked up and said, “Man, Mr. Knecht. Why did you peg me in the nuts in front of the whole school?” I thought about explaining to him that it wasn’t him. It was that he had become a symbol of every 5th grader that I had taught over the last two years. Instead, I answered to him honestly, “I wasn’t trying to ‘peg you in the nuts’. I was just trying to hit you as hard as I could with the ball. Sorry about that.”