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Mr. Krumdick’s phys ed class

Let me take you back to my freshman physical education class at Alpena High School, back to the gym, to Mr. Krumdick’s first hour.

Victor Krumdick was a vision of vitality — he looked like Mr. Clean. Bald, muscular, he always wore a spotlessly clean, snow-white T-shirt.

He was a “man’s man” in many ways, and all of us young guys looked up to him. Vic had received an MPE from Purdue University and knew what he was doing. He did it exceptionally well, to the advantage of many young people in this community.

Vic was a gymnast, and it is through his efforts Alpena High School began its tradition of excellence in gymnastics. Many young gymnasts grew under his tenure to compete at a state level, some as champions. Tim Mousseau and Ralph Broumund earned spots on the University of Michigan gymnastics team.

Vic didn’t wait for talent to come to him; he went out and found it. He found Gene Fairchild at Ella White Elementary and arranged for him to go to the high school so he could coach him.

Vic noticed Gene could climb a rope faster than a cat.

When Gene was old enough to be in high school, he and Cal Schultz would perform a little trick. Cal would stand with his arms fully extended upward, and Gene would climb on his shoulders, then move into a handstand on Cal’s upstretched arms.

This configuration allowed them to walk down a deserted high school hall together — Cal along the floor, Gene, “walking” on the 11- to 12-foot-tall ceiling, his feet prepared to leave the proof of it.

High school administration never did figure it out.

Back to phys ed.

The procedure there was you went to the locker room, changed, and entered the gym to stand in position along the sideline. Thirty or 40 of us guys would line up, goofing off, waiting for the morning bell to ring. You had to be on the line when the bell rang.

When it did, Mr. Krumdick would spring through his office door onto the gym floor and advance to a position in front of us. Then, with a big voice and a bigger smile, he would greet us with: “Good Morning, men!”

This despite what was arrayed before him.

We were an eclectic group of teenage boys, varying in height and weighing from 110 to 150 pounds, with outliers on either end. Shoes were in many cases not yet tied, hair not combed, shirts untucked.

But, when Victor Krumdick called us “men”, you could feel the line tighten, and waves of rectification start to flow. Then, we stood a little taller; our arms fell a little straighter.

If a vision of male perfection like Victor Krumdick told us we were men, couldn’t it possibly be so?

This particular day, Mr. Krumdick was away. The other phys ed teacher, Art, usually filled in, but we had a sub on this occasion. I’ll call him “Mr. Bob”; that’s not his real name.

The hour began.

Near its conclusion, we were instructed to line up, and Mr. Bob moved to near the gym’s center, holding a long, 2-inch manilla rope with a leather-covered weight attached to its end.

This was a game we had played before. Someone would swing the rope, but not so fast others couldn’t run to them at its swing’s center and away from them to exit; it was a timing and coordination thing.

Danny’s turn came (not his real name).

Dan made it to the middle alright, but his exit timing was off — off because Mr. Bob speeded up the rope and caught Dan around the legs, dropping him with a thud to the gym floor.

Dan told Mr. Bob he didn’t much like that.

Mr. Bob, undeterred in his apparent dislike for Dan, took him to the opposite end of the gym and caused him to get down on his hands and knees, with his rear raised in our direction.

He then procured a large softball and tossed it to one of the bigger kids in class, directing him to throw it at the apparent target Dan presented. He lobbed the ball.

Whereupon Mr. Bob said, “No, no, not like that, let me show you,” and, taking the ball, whipped it in Dan’s direction, where it hit the floor in front of him, ricocheting into that place of him where no additional balls should ever travel.

Danny rolled over in agony, moaning — but silenced.

Mr. Bob had crossed a line.

We can’t allow people like Mr. Bob to control the rope. We can’t give that power to anyone we haven’t all had a part in selecting.

A couple of his friends went down to Dan, but the rest of us stood there, shuffling our feet, ill at ease, doing nothing. The bell rang.

It was the most disgusting thing I ever witnessed in a classroom — and I was disgusted with myself.

The next, day Mr. Krumback returned and gave us some of our manhood back, but we had learned a lesson — how easy it is to lose.

Alan Dressler of the Carnegie Observatories said this of the Webb telescope, now on its way to reveal more of the heavens than we have ever seen:

“What resonates at this moment is the extraordinary ability of our species to collaborate, to organize thousands of people to work carefully, relentlessly, unselfishly, and seemingly endlessly to some greater human good.”

We all need to get through the rope to the other side, and we need to help and respect each other to do it. We will only experience the fullness of what God has to show us us by engaging together.

And only then will some creative people figure out a way for the likes of me to walk on a ceiling with Gene.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.

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