Once the semester got
underway, I understood why people had told me college was not high school.
No one was on my tail about keeping up grades, turning in assignments on
time, doing the assigned reading or taking notes in class. No one reminded
me of the need to budget my time. I was on my own so far as the college was
concerned. Well, a few professors would remind students of due dates, but
not most. I had been given a syllabus and was supposed to be adult enough to
pay attention to it.
The aquatics team was
another matter all together. The coaches were forever on the team about
eating right, getting in extra practice when needed, getting the necessary
rest and above all, staying out of trouble. I was surprised to learn the
athletes’ dorm was always in some kind of turmoil. Curfews were ignored;
there were fights. Alcohol seemed to flow freely when no games were in the
offing. Rules did not apply to most of the gods who lived on that Olympus.
One Monday after a group of
aquatics team members had been hauled back to campus Saturday night, drunk,
a combined meeting for aquatics team divers and swimmers was posted. Once we
were assembled, Coach Anderson and Coach Rowe really went on a tear. They
ranted, raved and carried on for half an hour. I’m usually pretty cool and
laid back, but I had spent the weekend buried in my library preparing for a
huge test Monday and finishing a paper for Introduction to Science, due the
same day. I was tired, suffering from lack of sleep and really pissed that
we were all having our time wasted by coaches who should be talking to the
six culprit assholes, not the whole team. When I finally had had enough, I
stood up and in my best Sergeant Major voice shouted, "All right, god dammit!
You have made your fucking point ten times over. I was in my room all
weekend working my fucking ass off, not out getting drunk, fucking or
anything else. I am not going to listen to you two carry on any longer. So
far as I am concerned, there should be you and six guys in your office and
I’m not one of them. Good afternoon!" I turned and headed for the door.
"Get you ass back here!"
Coach Anderson yelled.
I kept walking and heard
another team member say, “The man’s right. Fuck this shit!" When I glanced
back, over half the team was right behind me, walking out.
When I got home, I told
Auntie what had happened. "l guess I'll get kicked off the team and lose my
scholarship. I don’t know what came over me except I was tired and worn out
from working my butt off and was being yelled at for something I had no part
"Well, I will say you might
have watched your language, but I think the sentiments needed expressing.
We’ll see what happens."
Tuesday I was surprised when
people I did not know smiled and spoke to me on campus. At lunch, the
aquatics team—minus the six who were conspicuous by their absence—cheered
when I walked in. I turned ten shades of red. When I sat down, Louis came
over and asked permission to sit at our table a few minutes. Space was
quickly made for him and when he was seated, he spoke loudly enough for all
the team members to hear. "Guys, I was a fish when I was an undergrad here
and I’ll tell you, Derek is the first aquatics team member to have balls
enough to say what needed saying years ago. One of the problems our teams
have always has is a lack of team spirit because a few members get by with
all kinds of shit and the whole team gets an ass kicking. I hope you guys
have balls enough to stand behind Derek when the shit hits the fan and I’m
telling you, it’s on its way. Derek, your mom and dads have taught you well
and will stand behind you. Thanks, guys, for letting me have my say."
When Louis left, the first
thing said had nothing to do with yesterday’s event. "Derek, you have dads?"
I laughed. "Yeah, I have two
white dads who are married to each other, not my mom."
Keith, a senior swimmer,
said, "I want to hear that story, guys, but right now, I want to know how
many of you are behind me because I am the first behind Derek, the man with
Levi, junior, was searching
in his backpack. "Here it is", he said, as he placed a sheet of paper on the
table. "Sorry, Keith, but you’ll have to take the second spot as I have the
first one." He handed the sheet of paper to Keith who looked at it and said,
"Second is not always bad," wrote something on the paper and passed it to
the guy beside him.
The sheet went down one side
of the table and up the other and was then passed to the next table. Finally
it reached me. I read the two sentences at the top, "We the undersigned
support Derek Wilson and the stand he took Monday and demand an apology to
him and the team from Coach Anderson and Coach Rowe. Further, in the future
the entire team will not be reprimanded because of the actions of a few."
Every member of the aquatics team present had signed it.
There was a 4:00 to 5:30
practice scheduled for the divers. Swimmers had practice from 2:00 until
three, but there was a note posted on the announcement board that it had
been re-scheduled for 4:00. ‘Well,’ I thought, as I read it when I arrived
for dive practice, ‘we now know when the shit is scheduled to arrive at the
fan.’ There was a note that neither team was to dress for the pool until
instructed. As I looked around, I was surprised to see Louis and several
other people I did not know also sitting on the bleachers.
Promptly at 4:00, Dr. Haynes
walked in, followed by Coach Anderson and Coach Rowe. As soon as everyone
was quiet, he said, “Gentlemen. I am here to make very clear that events
such yesterday’s will not happen again. . . ."
"Very good, sir”, Levi said,
standing up. "That is the exact feeling of the aquatics team with the
exception the six who were brought back to campus drunk and for which we all
suffered a tirade only they should have heard. Since you now understand the
injustice we suffered yesterday, I am sure you understand what we, as a
team, now expect an apology from the two coaches who berated us at length
yesterday." While talking, he was walking toward Dr. Haynes who was getting
red in the face. He really got red when he read the sheets Levi handed him.
He passed them on to Coach Anderson who looked ready to explode as he read
them and was shaking all over he was so angry by the time he finished. Coach
Rowe took the sheets, looked at them, saw the signatures and kinda hung his
"Who the hell do you guys
think you are? You are team members, not the coaches," Coach Anderson
Louis stood and said, “Coach
Anderson, Old Commonwealth University has no use for coaches unless it has a
team to be coached. I have checked pretty carefully and I can find only six
names missing from the sheets you have in your hand, the same names which
should have been on the Dean’s desk Monday morning awaiting his decision
concerning their future. If you look on the blue sheet, you will see another
list of names, beginning with mine, of former members of the team in support
of the present team. Those above the line have signed in person. Those below
the line were contacted by phone and they asked that their names be added.
Letters from then attesting to that will be mailed to Dr. Haynes today. The
question is one which should have been answered long ago. Dr. Haynes, are
team members to be treated equally or are those who violate the rules going
to bring down punishment on all? Actually, from those I have talked with,
the question is whether or not there will be a team after today." Louis sat
"Louis, you seem to forget
that most of the young men here are here because they are on aquatics team
scholarships. They quit the team, they are dead in the water," Coach
Another man stood up. "l
wish you hadn’t said that, Coach Anderson. You may remember me. I am Chad
Willis, a diver while an undergrad here and now a law student. I just
happened to look over the conditions of scholarship with my contract law
professor and I’m afraid if the team simply disappears, the only one who
will feel the pinch will be the coaches who will lose the stipend connected
with their coaching a team."
Another fellow stood up and
said, "I’m Everett Davis, a former member of the aquatics team. It’s all
really very simple, Dr. Haynes, Coach Rowe, Coach Anderson. Coach Rowe and
Coach Anderson apologize for their reprehensible behavior yesterday and
Coach Anderson stops playing the ‘boys will be boys’ game with his favorites
and all will be well. What a very courageous young man expressed yesterday
and is supported by the signatures of
the team members,
we support. It should have happened several years ago."
Dr. Haynes was in shock and
obviously had no idea what he should do. Coach Anderson looked ready to
stroke out any minute when Coach Rowe said, "Gentlemen, I am a proud man. In
my heart, I consider you, and especially the divers, my adopted sons while
you are here, or so I have told myself. Yet, when I saw that paper and the
names there, I realized two things; no, three. First, I realized I would
never speak to one of my sons the way you were spoken to yesterday. Second,
I realized that I would never dress down my three boys for one’s
misbehavior. Third, as much as what Derek Wilson said yesterday hurt, I
realized that he had every right to do so and was one damn courageous young
man. Derek, I apologize to you personally and to all of you for my behavior
yesterday. Finally, I want to add, I am damn proud of all of you."
The cheers, applause and
whistles were thunderous, then the chanting started, "Coach Rowe, Coach
Rowe, Coach Rowe . . . ”
Coach Anderson turned on his
heel and left. Dr. Haynes still looked lost. He finally realized all had
gotten quiet and were looking at him. He said, "Coach Rowe, you may take
your divers to the pool. Swimmers, you are dismissed until your regular
practice time tomorrow.”
Coach Rowe worked us hard
for the remaining practice time, but nothing he asked of the dive team
seemed too much. For the first time, we were a team and working our asses
off for a coach we respected.
The next day we learned Dr.
Haynes had announced Coach Andersen’s retirement and the appointment of
Coach Rowe as his replacement. He would, of course, continue as dive coach.
Dr. Haynes also appointed a graduate student acting swim team coach. The two
teams were determined to make a go of it. For the rest of the season, divers
and swimmers set records and brought home trophies.
The weekend after
Thanksgiving, APFC’s aquatics team had a tournament at Old Commonwealth. Sam
and Brad came down Tuesday and Sam announced he was fixing Thanksgiving
dinner with Auntie's permission. She and Sam had great time in the kitchen.
Louis joined us for
Thanksgiving dinner. Philip, of course, would be with Peter and his family.
Jeremy would not be coming home so Sergeant Major and Mrs. Willoughby came
down as well. I invited Levi from the dive team. His parents were in Europe
somewhere and he would have been stuck in the dorm.
I knew Kevi from the dive
team, but got to other sides of him in a study group. He had put off Western
Civ in his freshman year and was taking it this year, one of several of
upperclassmen my class. About mid-semester we all realized it was a memory
course more than anything else and started getting together, first at lunch,
then at my place. Levi and I saw each other around the study table and at
dive practice and became good friends. I found that while he was generally
quiet, he could be a lot of fun.
I insisted my dads take my
bed and I slept in the living room on the sofa. In the process, I discovered
Philip didn’t have it too bad when he slept there to give Louis time with
his current lady friend.
After the APFC aquatics team
headed back to Alexander county Saturday evening, my dad’s and I sat up
until 3:00 talking. Both were concerned that I had no real social life and
insisted that change as soon as diving season was over. As to just how that
was to happen they seemed as lost as I was. Sam’s social life had revolved
around a frat until he met Brad and that was definitely out for me, and
Brad, well, he was just hanging on with his fingernails, not a situation I
was in thanks to my dads and Auntie.
The semester ended before
the Christmas break, so a lot of time was spent at the round table after
Thanksgiving. Study groups throughout the semester would have helped, we all
agreed, but we never got around to forming one except for Western Civ.
Western Civ was my first
final and the study group really burned the midnight oil all weekend before
it was to be given Monday at 9:00. When we saw the exam, we were pleased we
had spent time on it as it was a real bitch. Our study group all finished
about the same time and went to the student center for a coke. "Damn! Dr.
Peterson must hate students to design that mother," Gregory said. "I’m a
history major or thought I would be, but if that’s a sample of the
department, I may switch to nuclear physics or quantum mechanics, something
"I know what you mean,"
Janette said, "but honestly, how do you think you did?"
“l'll pull a C, maybe a B,"
Gregory said. "Without the study group? My ass would have flunked."
"Oh, I don’t know about your
ass," Levi said, “but the rest of you would be sitting right back in Western
Civ with me next semester." We all agreed the study group had saved us and
vowed to get in study groups for classes early next semester.
Turns out I should have been
given Westrn Civ credit for onr of my AP courses, but it was too late after
I had taken the course.
Fortunately, finals were
spread out over a week and a half and I only drew two on the same
day—Calculus and Freshman Lit. With Western Civ out of the way, my next
exam, Freshman Lit, was Wednesday at 2:00. We had been given the choice of
writing a paper or taking an exam. I elected to write a paper and had it
well on the way three weeks before exams. I collapsed after the Western Civ
exam until Tuesday morning. After I had a leisurely breakfast with Auntie, I
went upstairs and completed my lit paper. The professor had urged us to take
a contrary stance to a generally accepted position on a work or character.
I had always argued that
Huckleberry did not show moral development in Huckleberry Finn, but was
always argued down. This was a chance to make my case that Huckleberry was
just as racist at the end of the novel as at the beginning. I had done my
research--finding piles of material supporting moral development and
practically none supporting my position. However, I didn’t think I needed
much more than the novel itself.
The paper had definite
constraints placed on it. It had to depend primarily on the work itself, use
at least five secondary sources and not exceed three pages in length. When I
looked at what I had written, it was seven pages long, but otherwise I felt
it met the requirements. I worked on it two hours and was down to five pages
when I realized I was piling secondary source on top of secondary source.
I put it aside and biked to
the university for lunch—I pretty much ate lunch with the aquatics team
everyday even when, like today, I didn’t have to be on campus. When I
reached the table, Levi said, "Derek, I ran into one of Peterson’s TAs on
the way over. He said Western Civ grades would be posted by 1:30."
After lunch Levi and I
walked over to the history department and saw many from our Western Civ
class crowded around Dr. Patterson’s office door. There was a lot of mutters
of ‘shit,’ ‘piss,’ ‘fuck,’ ‘that motherfucker,’ and such. I also heard,
"Well, a D is passing.” "Thank you Jesus for a C." When Levi and I could
finally see the sheet, I got a real shock. A quarter of the class had
failed, Ds were plentiful, but slightly less than the number of Cs. The
study group stood out as none had made less than B and, in fact, accounted
for almost half of the Bs and all of the As.
"Damn, look at that, Derek,"
Levi said, "a B for me and an A for you. That’s a magic table in your
I laughed, "Levi, my friend,
it’s just like diving. The magic is in the work.”
"Yeah, man, and our gang did
it! When exams are over, we celebrate." Levi went back to my place with me
to study for a physics exam he had Wednesday.
When we got there, Philip
was in the library, bent over a textbook. We all greeted each other and Levi
was bursting with the good news about Western Civ.
Philip was a planning on a
dual major in English and French, so after I had worked on my paper another
hour and had it down to three pages and six lines, I asked him to read it
and make suggestions. When he finished, he said, "First off, Derek, your
argument is beautiful and really depends on nothing more than the primary
text. You have a secondary source which you have used previously and which
has essentially the same argument as the one just before it. Junk it and you
are within the page constraints and, in my humble opinion, have at least a B
plus paper. The only way it would be less would be because of the
professor’s prejudice. Who do you have?"
“Good teacher,” Levi said.
“Get her for comp if you can. She’s a comp teacher really, not lit. That
could work against you, but she’s also a New Englander so less likely to be
prejudiced about ‘you people’.” I had told Philip and Levi about Brad’s
explosion the day I met him when Levi had I commented on what a laid back
dude he was.
"I say junk that secondary
reference and go with it,” Philip said, “now tell me again why I, an English
and French major, am in a calculus class and how to save my ass?"
"You don’t save that ass, a
bubble butt in Richmond will be mighty . . . shit, piss, fuck." I said,
realizing I had just outed Philip to Levi. "Fuck Fuck Fuck! Damn, Philip,
Philip was looking at Levi,
in shock. I wondered if he was recalling the dressing down I had given him
when he outed me to Auntie--even though she, of course, knew--on the way to
"You gay, Philip?" Levi
“You?" Philip responded.
"One hundred percent," Levi
said. "So you have a boyfriend in Richmond?"
"Yeah, I do and it’s the
pits. You have a boyfriend?”
“No, and that’s really the
pits. Had one the last half of my freshman year and first half of my
sophomore one. Nothing serious, just fuck buddies, but we had agreed there’d
be no outsiders. I was almost ready to give up condoms when something
happened and I had to fly home. I came back a day early. He was in our
room, on his all fours with three guys taking turns fucking him. I don’t
know what they were on, but they were going at it bareback and his ass was
already overflowing with cum. Bastard said he got lonely sometimes and
needed a good fucking. Last I heard he was HIV+ and living at home, but
still screwing around. Kinda took the edge off. Well, I’m sure one day the
right guy will come along. What I want is what Derek’s dads have, but a good
fuck or blow job now and then before I find that guy would be welcome.”
"Sorry, not available,"
Philip smiled. "I’m pretty sure I’m on my way to having what Derek’s dads
have. So how to save my ass?"
“I’m as ready for my physics
exam as I am likely to be and Derek’s licked lit, so let’s work on calculus.
How are you on that exam, Derek?"
"I’m not worried about it,
but helping someone is the best way I know to learn."
The three of us started a
calculus review at 3:00 and worked until 5:00. "Philip, you are a lot better
prepared than you thought," Levi said. “You know your major problem? You
think English and French majors are supposed to have trouble with math.
Forget that shit. Think of math as just another language with vocabulary,
grammar, syntax, rules, all of which are there to express ideas, just like
French or English. Remember that tomorrow. Let’s take a break. Maybe a walk
along the beach."
Downstairs, Philip found
Auntie in the kitchen, bowed, took her hand and kissed it and said,
“Bonjour, belle dame.”
Levi kissed her on the cheek
and said, "Howdy, Ma’am," sounding very much like John Wayne. "How’d you
like a walk on the beach with this cowboy?"
"Why you fresh thing,”
Auntie said, playing along.
Bowing my legs, I walked up
to Levi and said, "Cowboy, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your
distance from my woman and ride out of town by sunset.”
We were all laughing like
fools and when we had calmed down a bit, Auntie said, "I take this bit as a
sign exams are going well."
"Actually very well," Levi
said. “I suggested a break and a walk on the beach. Had thought about going
to a ‘toss it on the table seafood place for shrimp, shellfish, crabs and
beer, then remembered these two are on the young side."
"Last week. Not only was my
birthday after the school cutoff date putting me almost a year behind, but I
was in a bad accident and missed a year. Got me into swimming and diving, so
it wasn’t a total loss."
"Kinda how I got into it," I
“You know, if you went
walking on the beach and happened on some shrimp and crabs, I’m sure they
would fit right in a pot outside and if a case of beer got mixed up with
them, I suspect no one would card the shrimp,” Auntie said.
So an hour and a half later,
we returned from a chilly, windy walk on the beach with a tub of seafood and
a case of beer. Auntie had a pot on the outside grill, with water and
seafood seasonings boiling away. Minutes after we arrived with our bounty,
we were sitting around the outside table, a pile of seafood in the center
and bowls of sauce. Levi had suggested we limit beers since we did need to
study a bit more.
Auntie, of course, joined us
and we had a grand time, something which I needed.
The calculus exam was a
breeze for me and Philip said he kept what Levi had told him in mind and
thought he had made a solid C, "Better than I could have hoped for
otherwise." He thanked Levi for his help and Levi said, "You convinced me a
lot rode on the exam," and winked at him and gave him a slap on the butt.
After lunch, I walked to the
English department and turned in my paper and got a stamp indicating I had
done so and on time.
My last exam was the one I
dreaded most, Intro to Science. It had both a written and a practical
component. How do you study for a practical component when all you know is
it will involve one or more of the sciences? Levi had finished his exams and
asked if we’d like him to join the study group since he was a science major.
He was a big help. We quizzed each other, he told us some of the practical
components he knew about to give us some idea of how that part worked. We
went over the review questions and discussed points where anyone was having
"Remember, the questions
vary in point value. Don’t spend too much time on questions which count
little. You can skip five two point questions if you need to spend extra
time and get a fifteen point one." We finally broke up at midnight. Philip
and Levi stayed behind to clean up while I drove the three women in the
group back to their dorm. The other two men had biked over. When I got back,
I suggested the two guys stay over. “You can share the sofa or one of you
can sleep in a recliner as it folds out into a bed.” I probably should have
offered to share my bed, but I didn’t think that was a good idea for some
The Intro to Science exam
was from 9:00 until noon. As soon as I looked at it, I realized even the
format was complex. Levi had been a big help in warning us to watch point
value. A long question often has a simple answer, but counted only a point
or two and it took time to read it. A short question requiring some thought
might pay off well. We had three hours for the examination, two hours for
the written part and one hour for the practical component. My practical
component: "When a material is cooled, it contracts. How might you prove
this? How could you prove this is not true at all temperatures for pure
water? What materials would you need to accomplish your proofs?" I was
relieved and wrote my answer in twenty minutes. Sometimes you get a break.
When I walked out of the
science building, I was suddenly aware of the fact that, for better or
worse, I had just finished my first semester of college.