TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Haltom on Sep 1, 2016

Journal Issue Date: Sep 2016

Journal Name: September 2016 - Vol. 52, No. 9

Nearly 50 years ago when I was in junior high school, I wasn’t much of an athlete. Like Rudy, I was five feet nothing and weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. I was so skinny I had to run around in the boys shower to get wet.

I could have been a pretty good soccer player. But at Frayser Junior High School in 1966, soccer was regarded as the sports equivalent of an alternative lifestyle. If you said you wanted to play soccer at Frayser Junior High School in 1966, you might as well have announced that you wanted to play chess or be on the debate team.

The athletic director at Frayser Junior High School was Coach Will Medling. He believed in soccer about as much as he believed in the United Nations. He believed that what made American great was football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring, just as God had intended it. (See Ecclesiastes, chapter 3.)

I desperately wanted to be a great athlete. And so I tried out for Coach Medling’s teams only to be cut during tryouts or to spend the season collecting splinters.

But there was one other sport Coach Medling loved. And miraculously, it was a sport I excelled in. The sport was dodge ball.

In addition to being coach of the Frayser Junior High School Fighting Rams football, basketball, and baseball teams, Coach Medling also had the arduous assignment of teaching a course called Physical Education. For one hour each day, all boys in the seventh and eighth grades at Frayser Junior High School would assemble in the gymnasium to be instructed in the finer points of physical education by Coach Medline, despite the fact that Coach Medling was built like Orson Welles and obviously hadn’t done a sit-up since World War II.

Coach Medling’s physical education class did not feature lectures. There was no syllabus or reading list or written examination. In fact, there was only one activity in Coach Medling’s P.E. class. The activity was dodge ball.

Each day Coach Medling would convene his P.E. class by blowing his whistle to bring all seventh and eighth grade boys to attention. He would then solemnly announce, “Let’s play dodge ball!”

At this point, I and 47 of my classmates would assemble in the middle of the basketball court as if we were about to face a firing squad.

Coach Medling would then hand the volleyball to one of my classmates, Peewee Ray. Peewee was far and away the biggest kid in eighth grade. He stood over six feet tall and weighed about 230 pounds. That’s why we called him Peewee. At Frayser Junior High School, the student body was known for its dry, understated humor and sense of irony.

Peewee would take the volleyball in his right hand, hold it as if it were a cantaloupe, and then carefully aim it toward the basketball court where I and my 47 classmates were huddled.

Peewee would then hurl the volleyball as if he were Bob Gibson throwing a fastball high and inside at a batter who was crowding the plate. Traveling at an appropriate speed of 200 miles per hour, the volleyball would then strike one of my poor classmates in the head, causing either a fractured skull or a major concussion. The impact would be approximately the same as a frontal lobotomy.

The poor schumck who was hit by Peewee’s first throw would then either be taken by ambulance to the hospital (or the morgue), or he would limp up alongside Peewee. Peewee would then hand him the volleyball so that he, like Peewee, could knock the ever-living aspirations out of one of his classmates. And when the next victim was struck down, he too could come to the sidelines so that he could become one of the assaulters rather than the assaultees.

The object of the game of dodge ball was to be the last man left standing on the basketball court. It was like a human demolition derby.

Well, I couldn’t dribble a basketball except off my foot. I couldn’t hit a fastball or a slow-pitch softball, for that matter. And my only role on the football team was to serve as a human tackling dummy. But boy could I play dodge ball. I was the Michael Jordan of dodge ball.

The secret to my great dodge ball game was simple. I was so small that I could just hide behind all of the other guys until I was the last man standing.

It’s a crying shame dodge ball never became an Olympic sport. I would have won a gold medal. And, unfortunately, there is no such thing as the National Dodge Ball Association. If so, I could have had a major league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I thought about my dodge ball career recently when I read in the newspaper that dodge ball has now been banned by school boards in Massachusetts, Texas, Maryland, New York and Virginia. Why? Well, according to the article that first appeared in the Boston Globe, some educators feel that dodge ball traumatizes children and promotes intimidation. These educators advocate kinder and gentler physical education classes featuring such activities as dancing and gymnastics.

Well, I don’t know where Coach Medling is these days. He is probably in that big gym in the sky organizing a dodge ball game featuring David and Goliath. But I can tell you this. If the school board had told Coach Medling in 1966 that he needed to replace dodge ball with interpretive dance, I know exactly what he would have done. He would have summoned Peewee, handed him a volleyball, and told him to hit the school board chairman right between the eyes.

Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis Bar Association. Read his blog at www.billhaltom.com.