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Larry Penkava: My claim to athletic fame

I was an important athlete in high school. Too bad Coach Kirkman didn’t see my potential star qualities.

 

Well, in a way he did. In fact, he gave me a special role during practice.

 

I went to Franklinville High School, which had only 177 students for the four grades. I know because I counted all the students in my senior yearbook.

 

There were three more graduations from FHS after my class’ commencement. Then Eastern Randolph consolidated five 1A schools into one.

 

Before consolidation, the five small schools plus two others formed the Randolph County Athletic Conference. Only two of them fielded football teams.

 

Some of us students at Franklinville signed a petition to have our own football team and posted it on the bulletin board in the hallway. Mr. Thomas, who acted as assistant principal, saw the petition, tore it down and tossed it in the garbage.

 

But we boys still had basketball and baseball while the girls just played basketball. Coach Whatley took the girls to a couple of conference tournament championships.

 

Meanwhile, Coach Kirkman was in charge of both the boys’ teams. Our first week of practice in the fall was killer as he ran us through all sorts of drills he called calisthenics.

 

We were out of shape from a long summer and early fall and he was determined to get us into form. I remember going to class after a strenuous practice the day before and our legs were so sore we could hardly get into our desks. 

 

But as the weeks passed, we became fit. Coach had a routine in which we warmed up with calisthenics and wind sprints before working on basketball offense and defense. At the end of practice, we had to run 25 laps around the court.

 

During my four years, Coach Kirkman noticed that I was always ahead of the pack running laps. I had been inspired to run by Jim Beatty, who ran the world’s first indoor mile under four minutes.

 

By my junior or senior year, he decided on a way to make the slackers run faster. He told the players that for every time I passed them they would have to run an extra lap.

 

Did that place a social burden on me? Nah, I just went on by them while they pleaded with me to slow down. I didn't laugh when I lapped them but I may have displayed just a smidgen of a smirk. Hey, I was just doing what Coach told me.

 

That rule carried forth to baseball season, when the 25 laps were around the base paths. 

 

Since I wasn’t a starter on the baseball team, Coach made me the courtesy runner. Any time the pitcher or catcher got on base, I would run for them. 

 

Coach pretty much gave me the green light for stealing bases. I don’t remember ever getting caught stealing, but then the opposing catchers weren’t exactly Johnny Bench.

 

One day before baseball practice, Coach took me aside and informed me of a deal he had made with a non-athlete. It didn’t seem to occur to him that he’d done the deal without my consent. But then, he was the coach.

 

Anyway, a guy named Roy had boasted — I think it was in the smokers’ circle — to Coach that he could outrun me. Coach took up the challenge, unbeknownst to me, and told Roy to show up at the ballfield that afternoon.

 

The deal was that I would start running around the bases and Roy would follow. The first to quit running was the loser.

 

Now Roy was a slender guy and probably had some inborn running instincts. But he had a definite disadvantage — he smoked like the school’s coal-fired boiler. Plus, he surely hadn’t been running laps every day.

 

Long story short, it was a short race. Roy may have kept up with me for a lap or two, then gave out of gas … or was it breath? Or maybe he had an overbearing nicotine urge.

 

As for me, it was no big deal. I’d been running laps for four years and passing lots of guys along the way.

 

Coach Kirkman still attends class reunions. When my class comes together, he always likes to tell the story about how I put Roy in his place. 

 

Poor Roy. He could have insisted on a race from home plate to first base. That way, he may have had a chance to outrun me, before his lungs collapsed.

 

But we’ll never know. Coach made sure of that.


 

Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.