Kelseyville High School was a small high school in Northern California at Clear Lake condemned by the 1933 State Field Earthquake Act. With little money available for new construction, the law seemed to be disregarded at Kelseyville High School. The
school’s two buildings were separated by an asphalt parking lot. The old school was purposed for classrooms and the Principal’s office. A newer A-framed gymnasium completed the set. My first assigned classroom where I was to teach mathematics in
1965 was separated by folding doors at the back of the old gym and stage. Student chairs were arranged around two building support poles. My students called it the ‘Bat Cave’. One small window high on the back wall let in a small amount of the
famous California sunshine. Showing any movie on the school projector brought howls from all the other teachers as the overloaded circuits blew a fuse. The lights went out in the entire school. In one way, this classroom was better than the one I was assigned
later in my tenure at this school.
My second classroom assignment had a wall of windows along one side, windows that had to be kept open as the school did not have air conditioning. Maintenance workers chose to run the lawnmower and other equipment
outside as close to the school windows as possible during those ‘special’ teaching moments. Worse than the noise was the cloud of billowing poison rolling into my classroom when the grounds and building were being treated for crawling vermin.
The office secretary stopped me one morning as I entered the school building.
“Mr. Clever, you will be receiving a new student in your 9th Grade General Mathematics class. There is some special information about this student
I think you should know. Will you please come into the office?”
As in all schools, the power resides at the secretary’s desk. I followed her into the Principal’s office. She handed me a student file. Before I could open the file she
began her instruction.
“You will find this student a bit challenging. He has recently been discharged from California’s Napa State Hospital for the criminally insane. Arnold has been a patient there since he poured gasoline on his grandmother
and set her afire. On his release, the boy was returned to his parents who live in our school district. They want him in school. We are assured his violent tendencies are under control with the daily medicines he takes. Good luck.”
With that assurance
she handed me the student’s folder instructing me to read it and return it before I began my teaching day. One of the hospital teaching clinicians offered information in the file which made it clear Arnold was a big, almost man-like boy age 16 with a
mental and educational age of a fourth grade student. Oh, this was going to be fun. I thought. And it was. After a few days of relatively normal classes after I introduced our new student to his classmates, they soon discovered he was ‘Special’.
I forgot to mention there were no Special Education teachers in this school, no band, no chorus, and no art. When the Principal found out I had an art show in New York, I became the art teacher as well as a mathematics teacher.
Before each class, a
group of Arnold’s ‘friends’ would tell him it was important to ask questions in class. If he did so, it would make his teacher happy. I found this out after several troubling classes when I did some Marine interrogation of the boys I saw
with him before class. You are wondering what questions he asked in class? Here is a sample:
“Mr. Clever.” He would wildly raise his hand when I was explaining some mathematic problem.
“Yes, Arnold. What is it?”
“Where do babies come from?”
“Do you think the girls in the front row have big hooters?”
“You are a football coach. Can I be on your team?”
That was a question
I could answer.
“Yes, Arnold. Any boy in high school can be on the football team. Just be at practice after school and we will talk about it.”
That statement was probably another of Clever’s teaching mistakes. He did show up
for football at the next practice. It was a school with limited numbers of boys interested in playing football, so we issued equipment to him. He was a big kid. Maybe I could make him into a ferocious lineman, I considered. It did not take long
in the team’s practice to see Arnold’s potential as a lineman. The Lorazepam, or clozapine he was taking to control his aggression worked. He could not block, tackle, hurt any football players, nor hurt himself. I do have to admit there was no
information in his student file explaining his behavior on the football field. At a much later time in life, I did a little research about how children with criminally aggressive behavior were being treated at Napa State Hospital. What was I going to do with
this kind of football player?
I will digress from this story for a moment to share with you my personal sports coaching philosophy. Memories of participation in high school sports last a lifetime. I have witnessed football teams of eighty or more players
in high schools when only eleven kids are on the football field at any given time. Some of these kids sit the bench every game, never being ‘in’ the game. Coaches unkindly call them cannon fodder. Cannon fodders are the second, third and fourth
string kids who are used to improve the skills of a coach’s best players. It is thirty or less years later, sitting at a bar somewhere, talking to buds about football. If the guy at the bar or anywhere else has played football and been on the field for
at least one play, they have something to talk about. Oh, yes. It can be a time when it was something they make bigger than it ever was, but they played. The bar guy did not just sit the bench as ‘cannon fodder’. As a coach, I always tried to make
sure every one of my players were in every game for at least one play. The question was, how was I ever going to do that with Arnold?
Kelseyville High School had a practice football field, but no football stadium. Home games were played on a football
field in the Lake County Fairgrounds at night under lights. High school football was a big event for the community. Dads, moms, grandmothers, alumni, and neighbors would fill the stands. I learned from our practices it would not be possible to just send Arnold
into a game on my order. He did not remember where to go, what to do when he was on the field, and what should happen when the ball was hiked to the quarterback. My solution to this dilemma was to have one of my other players take Arnold into the game, set
him in his proper place on the line with instructions not to move until he heard the referee’s whistle. At that point in the game his team partner would take him back to the bench for the remainder of the game. The first part of this plan worked well.
Returning Arnold to the bench, not so well. Each time I tried this strategy his team buddie would have to search the field to find Arnold. He could be in the other team’s huddle, with the cheerleaders, or talking to the officials. Nevertheless, I persevered
with my football player philosophy.
Yes, we won a few more games than we lost. I was not free from town criticism for doing so. Arnold’s history and challenges were well known to that small town. Scuttlebutt was we would have won more games if
I only played my best guys. One Monday morning after a particularly close Friday night score, the Principal met me in the parking lot.
“Good morning, George. I want to talk to you about Friday night’s game. Do you know what I am hearing
from people over town?”
“No sir, I don’t.”
“Well, they are very upset you are putting Arnold in the game. They think you really don’t know how to coach a football team playing such a misfit. All he does in
the game is stand around and run funny.”
“Well, sir, it is only for one play. I believe every kid who practices hard all week should be in the game for at least one play.”
“George, he is useless as a football player. You
know he is on meds to stop his criminal aggression.”
“Yes, sir. I know the meds affect his ability as a player. Perhaps I should talk to his parents about keeping him off his meds for a couple of days before a game. He is really a big kid
who could do some damage to our football opponents, don’t you think?” I said with a smile.
The Principal shook his head, and with a grumpy humph headed to his office.
I could hear him say, “No, you would be the crazy one if
you did that.”