This is a memoir from Jr. High. We're nothing if we don't reflect. I wish I was half as resolute as I was in eighth grade.
"Get your knees up, rummies!" He yelled. He stood above us, rasping orders as we jogged in place. "Dog's gonna get ya! Run, run, run! C'mon!" The wrestling team knew that there was no dog, but we didn't dare slow down. Twenty sweaty teens were running nowhere in the dark halls of F. L. Smart Intermediate, Dave snarling at our heels. We took this abuse, not out of fear, but of respect. From him, we learned how a bear shows affection.
Dave Stage reminds me of a troll from old stories. Short, stocky, and an unkempt beard, it was easy to see the guy bumbling out of a cave every morning. Beside his appearance, his most defining feature was his voice. The sound he made seemed to come from a place deeper than his throat. He spoke with a slur that hinted of an alcohol problem, and a gravely tone that was like an on old, stalling engine.
When the seventh-grade-wrestling season began, I signed up without hesitation. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The night began with our motley crew running laps around the gym. As we paraded in a fast jog, I was able to see our coach, in action, for the first time. Instead of standing and yelling, Dave ran with us, on the inside of the circle, with a whistle in his mouth. As he set the pace, he was blaring his whistle and screaming at us. The ordeal may have been funny, but at the time, I was too scared to consider the humor.
After running in the gym, we ran in the halls. Following that, we ran stairs. After yet more running, we settled down to some push-ups. The entire length of our practice, Dave kept up with us. Throughout the entire night, I can't remember one time when Dave did not meet or exceed the, somewhat tedious, pace he set for us.
"You boys went through a lot of shit tonight. I saw a lot of you dyin out there. That's okay; none of ya did end up dyin, not yet at least. Point is, I ain't gonna tell you tonight that things are gonna get better or worse. Your attitude decides that." He said something like that after every single practice. That year, we worked our tails off and looking back now, I can honestly say that things never got better. We all learned a good poker face, however. Dave liked to pick on the tired guys.
After the season was over, Dave decided to take us to an Iowa Hawkeye wrestling meet. During the last few matches, realization hit me like a ton of bricks.
When we were tired, we would only go halfway to our chests during push-ups. Dave would get mad at us and bark, "You're only cheating yourselves!" At the time, we could care less. Now I see we were cheating him as well. During the Iowa game, we could see the way Dave looked at the Hawkeye coaches. I think he wanted to be the one in charge of leading Iowa to victory. Although none of us kids may make it to play for the Hawks, he was still trying to live a small part of his fantasy through us.
There’re a lot of times, in a lot of situations where I feel like I want to just give up. I don’t care about succeeding any more, and I don’t care about doing my best. I had enough and I wanted out. Dave made a change in me. Because of him, there’s a small part of me that just can’t give up. Every time I get close to throwing in the towel, I hear a voice in the back of my mind that says, "Get your head up, rummy! Don’t you go dyin’ on me yet!!" Dave caused me to see that no matter how bad off I think I am, if I’m physically able to try my best at something, then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t. He broke me down and took away any excuses I had for not pressing on and sticking to what I planned, even when things go horribly wrong. Once he even told us:
"Shit don’t go the way you want out there on that mat sometimes. Hell, sometimes the guy your pinnin’ may get the jump on you before ya even know what’s up or down. That’s okay. You keep your head on and wait for him to lose his. If the guy takes advantage of ya out there, it’s your fault. If I see him take advantage of you out there, I’ll get ya next practice."
Dave wouldn’t accept us giving up. He wanted us to live up to the amount of greatness he thought was in us. Even if Dave was a little too hard on us sometimes, he forced us to see something in ourselves that we didn’t know was there before. If it really wasn’t there before, then he gave us the drive to put it there and believe in it. In the span of one year, he changed us all, irreversibly for the better.