We'll start with 4th Grade. I don't recall what events lead to the formation, but this was the year when a 4th Grade boys basketball team was organized at Queen of Heaven in Cherry Hill, NJ. Not much came of it though since there weren't any other schools in the area that had teams of a similar age range. So it was more or less time spent practicing and playing against one another. It was an OK time, I guess. Any excuse to get kids to spend more time playing together.
5th Grade was when sports became a big deal since guys were finally able to try out for the JV basketball team. And I, just for the hell of it, decided to give it a shot. Since it was the JV team, I think everyone who came out for the team was allowed to play. I mean, I was on the team and I wasn't in anything even remotely resembling peak physical condition. But again, I think it was another case of getting kids together and having them actually engaging in physical activity instead of sitting around and watching TV or playing video games. Since I was on the team, my dad was part of the coaching staff. I'm not sure if he volunteered or got roped into it since I was involved, but nevertheless he was there for every practice and every game. Don't worry, this didn't turn into one of those cliched moments you see in movies or TV shows where the coach's son is treated like the star player and sees a ridiculous amount of game time. It was evident that my basketball skills were... let's say "mediocre" at best. Don't get me wrong, I understood the basics of the game - dribbling, passing, shooting, defense, and so on. But there were plenty of people on the team who were much better than me. That is to say, pretty much everyone else. But I did see time on the court. I wasn't a great player, but I did manage to score a whopping 12 points throughout my starred career. Funny thing, each basket I made was at an away game. Well, maybe it's not that funny now that I think about it. Not ironic either. I guess, if anything, it's... um... a fact. Yeah, I got nothing. I did the JV team thing again in 6th grade and even tried out for Varsity in 7th grade. It's no surprise to me that I was cut after tryouts. Oh well, it didn't really matter to me. That was the end of my time playing basketball.
Being an overweight kid, I didn't wear a "traditional" jersey. Most likely because they didn't carry one in my size. Even if they did, I'd probably have worn a t-shirt under it since I would've been more comfortable that way. That's what I did when wearing my singlet for wrestling, but more on that later. If need be, I'm sure I could just worn a plain blue t-shirt (since our school colors were blue & white) and maybe gotten some iron-on transfers for numbers to go on the back of it. Instead, I was given a different jersey. It was a girls' basketball jersey. No, seriously, I was told flat out that's what it was. It basically looked like a t-shirt but the material was a dark, shinier blue. This is what they found that would fit me? And it was still a bit on the tight side. I don't think any of the opposing players ever took me seriously. But then again, why would they? "Check out this fat kid trying to keep up playing basketball! What is he thinking?" I even remember some punk ass kid from some team saying to me in the bathroom before one game, "Hey, if we win, your ass is grass. If you guys win, your ass is grass". So, let me get this straight; This little prick basically threatened to beat me up regardless of the outcome of the game. Did I say anything to anybody about it at the time? No. I didn't think much about it. Besides, I didn't think anything would happen to me after the game since I wasn't planning on spending any time away from the team and my dad after we were finished. Besides, what was he going to do? Approach me as I was leaving with my dad and try to kick my ass? I'm sure this guy went on to be a big star in the NBA and is making a living off his numerous merchandising deals and... oh, wait, no, I'm sure he's probably just some guy leading an average life who has since stopped playing basketball since it's not how he's making his living. I know I may sound sort of embittered, but honestly, what does one gain by trying to bully an overweight kid you don't know and have never seen before in your life? Kids are dumb, there's no two ways about it.
I started wrestling in 5th grade as well since a good friend of mine was involved in it. However, Queen of Heaven didn't have a wrestling team. So we were part of the team for St. Peter's in Merchantville, NJ. It's important to note that wrestling and basketball seasons intersected so when I started with St. Peter's, I was still on the JV basketball team at Queen of Heaven. Basketball practices were Monday and Wednesday evenings while wrestling practices were Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I definitely kept myself active during that time, but I was still overweight. At practices, I usually drilled with the coaches or my dad since they were technically the closest to my weight class. Most of the time at matches I ended up wrestling in the heavyweight division since many of the school didn't have guys in my weight class and it wasn't uncommon for me to take on guys who outweighed me by 20 or more pounds or were even older than me by a couple of years depending on the time frame of reference.
I stuck with wrestling all the way through 8th grade. I guess I enjoyed it more than basketball and was probably better at it in the long run. Though, I will admit, I wasn't that great of a wrestler. I had a lot of factors going against me. For one, I never was a quick kid. Speed is a very important aspect of wrestling, almost as important as strength if you ask me. And lacking that, it wasn't very uncommon for me to end up on my back looking up at the lights as the referee counted the pin. Also, I've worn glasses since I was 9 years old. And, let's be honest, if there's one sport where you cannot wear glasses and safely participate, it's wrestling. So blurry vision while competing, also not conducive to winning. Occasionally I would go to meets or tournaments and not have a single match and end up just sitting around most of the day. I didn't win very often. In some tournaments I would win via forfeit being the only person in my weight division. But I do have one legit win to my name. It happened so quickly that I barely remember it, but at one meet when I was in 8th grade I succeeded in pinning my opponent in the second period. It may be the only win I ever had, but it was via pin and that made me feel pretty damn good! As it turned out, this was also the day where I ended up wrestling in either 4 different matches over the course of the day. With the last two matches coming one right after the other. Needless to say, I didn't last very long at that point. One of the team dads made large wooden pins as trophies for guys on the team who achieved victories via pinfall. I received one of those the following week as well as something an extra, a wooden barbell trophy to commemorate the fact I wrestled a large number of matches at that meet. That was really cool. I still have both of these trophies as you can see here.
After graduating from 8th grade, it was time to get ready for the next step in life - high school. In the fall of 1998, I would be attending St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia, PA. And for reasons I still can't quite fathom, that summer I decided I would train to get ready to be on the Freshman football team. Again, I have no clue why this idea entered my head. I've never been a fan of football nor had I ever shown any interest in playing it before. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume my dad had some influence in my decision to pursue this course of action. Anyway, he and I would go to a school in the area and train together. Running on the football field or the track the enveloped the grassy area a couple of times a week. The first practice was on a Sunday afternoon in late August, the day before the first day of school. We all went to St. Joe's to get our gear and get introduced to the coaches. Then practice began with us running from the Prep to Girard College, half a mile away. Once we got to the campus, there was more running. And then, some more running. And finally, the day was capped off with even more running. I was not accustomed to this. Yes, my dad and I had done lots of running at the high school near us during the weeks leading up to this. But that was in the evening when temperatures were beginning to cool off and out near the suburbs of South Jersey. This practice was in the early afternoon and not too far from Center City Philadelphia. It was scorchingly hot out that day. By the end of practice, I was dehydrated and miserable. I cried most of the way home telling my dad I didn't think this was for me. He told me I should calm down and think about it before making a decision. I'm sure he meant I should take a couple of days to think it over, but later that evening at home I said I was positive that I didn't want to play football because I was sure it wasn't for me. I can't help but think I may have really disappointed him with my decision, though I don't think he made any indication one way or another. Besides, no time like high school to start asserting yourself somewhat in making your decisions. I certainly didn't feel like being miserable day in and day out just because I was worried about whether or not my dad would be disappointed in me.
The first day of school game and I brought my gear with me on the bus that morning. When we pulled up to the Prep, my first order of business was to go to the equipment room to meet up with the coach and return everything. I told him I didn't think I'd be a good fit for the team and, upon returning my equipment, thanked him for his time. So, I was a football player for all of one day. A friend of mine from St. Joe's and I still joke about this since he was the the first practice as well and he also decided that it was not for him that day. "Can you believe we toyed with the idea of being on the Freshman football team", I'd always say. "What in the Hell were we thinking?" That was the first and last time I ever got involved with high school sports. Later that day, I saw a flyer on a bulletin board for a different activity that would change my life forever. But that, my friends, is a story for another day.