October 27th, 2011

bear cake

A parable (work in progress)

When I was in high school, the only people allowed to wear Letterman jackets were members of the Varsity football team. That rule was established decades ago, when the school was founded. Of course, back then there no women's sports, and the only other sports at the school were intramural, or existed only in PE. Over the years, as academic achievement and student leadership (e.g. student body president) were recognized by the school administration, similar accolades were given to them (usually in the form of plaques, or medallions that could be worn at graduation) but the jackets themselves remained exclusive to the Varsity football team. After all, ticket sales from football games brought a lot of money into the school, and gave the marching band a purpose other than parades. Also, the homecoming king and queen were invariably a star football player and his girlfriend, since homecoming was always held in conjunction with a football game. Every once in a while the king would be a strong up-and-comer from JV, particularly when Varsity was having a bad year, but for the most part it was a Varsity player who won. And so, the Varsity football team enjoyed special privilege for years, and were instantly recognizable in their distinctive jackets.

Now, one year back in the '60s there was a Varsity football player who was allergic to wool. As the letterman jackets were made of wool and leather, this presented a bit of a problem. Some suggested that he could have a lined jacket, or a letterman jacket made out of a synthetic material. However, the boy decided that he'd rather wear one of the sweaters that were in style among the athletes at the local college. It looked very different from the letterman jackets, but it didn't it have any wool in it and he was happy. Since then, the Varsity players were given the option to wear a letterman jacket or an athletic sweater. While it was expected that the offensive team would never wear anything but the jackets, they gained modest popularity with the defensive team.

As time went on, other competitive sports showed up at my high school. First baseball and wrestling, but then other sports, some of which were co-ed. The athletic department wanted to recognize them somehow, and discussed giving them modified embroidered letters, similar to the simple ones that the Varsity football players wore on their letterman jackets and athletic sweaters. At this, the Varsity football team, the football coach, and the parents of the Varsity players balked. The other sports weren't as rigorous as football, they said. They didn't have the same crowd appeal, didn't draw in the same numbers, and didn't have the same mystique. So why should they be recognized with a letter, even a modified letter? Still, the administration was feeling the heat from the rest of the athletic department, and finally decided that the best athletes from the other sports could have the modified letters as long as they didn't put them on a letterman jacket or athletic sweater. There was grumbling from the football community, but for the most part life went on.

When I was in high school, there was in impressive array of sports. There was men's and women's basketball, men's and women's track and field, co-ed wrestling, baseball, softball and tennis. Some of our teams and individual competitors were really good, and were winning county championships. There was enough interest in the sports that they had to start making Varsity and JV teams. The Varsity basketball players and track teams started asking if they could have some sort of official-looking outer garment that they could wear to show their school pride and athletic achievement at school and out at these track meets and basketball games. There was a lot of resistance to allowing this, though no one could ever really explain why in a way that made sense to anyone else.

I, not being an athlete (and certainly not a Varsity athlete) suggested that the Varsity teams could wear the athletic sweaters that some of the Varsity football players had worn in the past. They were "athletic" sweaters, after all, and very few Varsity football players were using them; at this point, out of the 80 or so Varsity football players, only four were wearing the athletic sweaters; one from the defensive line, and the other three on Special Teams. However, my suggestion was shot down immediately by parents, students and the administration; those sweaters were reserved for those Varsity football players who were allergic to wool or otherwise didn't want to wear a letterman jacket. There was no way that the other athletes would be allowed to wear an athletic sweater, not now, not ever, end of discussion! I was mocked and ridiculed for my outrageous suggestion. By the end of my senior year, the decision of whether the other Varsity athletes would be allowed to wear a uniform jacket was still up in the air.

I'm really glad I graduated high school, went to college, and joined the SCA, where no such stupid high school politics exist.