State, coaches can offer no alternative to pain, sweat
By John Bogert, South Bay Daily Breeze, Torrance, CA, July 13, 1989

Hey you, Coach Kapinski. That's right, you, chrome dome. Listen up, I'm talking to you. You want to learn something about civilization?

You want to hear how you're supposed to treat children? That's right, Coach baby, I'm talking to you wherever you are. I want you to hear this. Now listen up real good. (That's what you always said, real good. Where'd you learn your grammar, Parris Island?)

Now drop down and get Coach Bogert 50.

Wait. Maybe Coach Bogert wants 100 and 100 (that's 100 sit-ups and 100 pushups to those of you living in momentarily civilized California) on the blazing blacktop.

Eat a sweat sock Coach, will you, because there's a rule now--or there was, for a day. You heard it sucka, a rule preventing sadists from taking out their petty frustrations of kids.

I mean, can we help it that the Marine Corps passed you over for promotion and dumped you on the street with a fanatic's knowledge of rifle company tactics (lot of demand for that on the open market) and the ability to make young men hate you.

Is that our fault?

So what if it's been, how long, 26 years since we met in that junior high physical education class down in Florida. One doesn't forget an 11 a.m P.E. class under the southern sun any more that a man forgets 20 years in a windowless cell on Dry Tortugas.

Know what hell is: 55 minutes with Coach Kapinski. But 55 minutes with Coach had a way of stretching out--like chewing gum on hot tarmac--into endless, aching minutes of punishment push-ups and (if your really screwed up, which we always did) the after-school detention periods Coach called "tea parties."

That's what he called it, the lisping sadist, a tea party: an hour under the killing sun frog-walking and sit-upping until our coccyxes screamed.

Once, he made my pal Dick Boling and me run punishment laps while thrashing each other with our wet T-shirts. Who thinks of such things? Who, except children, would do them?

Anyway, the blessed souls at the California Department of Education--also known as The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight--finally made that kind of stuff illegal, or next to illegal even if it was only for a moment. On Tuesday they issued an advisory strongly suggesting that coaches shouldn't use forced exertion "that causes pain or discomfort" as punishment in physical education classes and on athletic training fields.

In fact, they called what Coach Kapinski--may he be unhappy in his trailer park retirement--performed "an illegal form of corporal punishment."

It may sound like a small measure, but this was a revolutionary move couched in education-speak and dreaded legaleese, which is the same as saying that somebody is afraid of being sued.

Saying that a coach in a physical education class or on a school athletic team can't use pain and discomfort to mold young men runs counter to everything that underpins male pack activity.

In fact, the giving and taking of such pain may well be the greatest of the unspoken rules, the glue that binds us into testosterone-charged armies and crazed ball teams.

This was (for a day anyway) the revolutionary thought: The Department of Education said that coaches could, for example, use bench sitting as punishment. This would be used instead of, for example, making kids run laps until they die.

That may sound reasonable to lawyers (and what doesn't?) but you have to believe that Coach Kapinski and his line--a line founded in brutal Sparta and inextricably woven into the male fabric--were spitting tobacco juice all over themselves.

Actually, the reasoning for the continued use of this ancient and unspoken philosophy is embodied in the parting words Spartan moms gave their soldier sons: "Come back victorious or don't come back!"

Would we remember them if they had said: "Come back victorious or you're going to bed without dinner!"

If that had been the case, our most famous jock quotes might have been, "Winning isn't everything, and if you don't believe it, you can't use the car on Saturday night."

It lacks the true ring of metal upon metal. But there it was, the very first gentler, kinder, self-actualized and short-lived thrust at the very heart of the male beast.

I can't think of an alternative to pain, humiliation and awful sweat; real sweat, that is, on a hot blacktop at noon on on the practice field until dark.

Neither, apparently, could state school chief Bill Honig, who reversed the advisory 24 hours after it was issued, saying that staff members overstepped their bounds in issuing the order.

And it's probably a good thing that he did because this exchange has been beating around in my skull for two days and it was threatening not to leave: "Mr. Bogert, drop down and get me 50. If that doesn't teach you some self-control, drop down and get me 50 more. This tea party ain't never going to end."

"I know it won't, Coach. But why don't you just drop dead anyway?"

Of course, I never actually said that, but I thought it often enough and can hear it still while so much else has been lost.

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