At 16 I learned about putting forth an image and how the public one doesn’t always equal the one people don’t see. 

My late father in law once told someone he wasn’t a “joiner.” I don’t know if he was doing that to put them off without hurting their feelings (they wanted him to be a part of some group) or he truly wasn’t a group/organization kind of guy. He wasn’t a part of many groups really, not with any structure anyway. Maybe that’s why we got along.

Other than 4-H I was never part of a group that was publicly noticeable, publicly identifiable, until I was a sophomore in high school. The yellow shirt that we were required to buy and wear on game days changed all that. In our school system you didn’t start high school until the 10th grade. Us sophomores, and myself in particular, had a lot to learn about being part of a group and knowing our place within that group.

Game day attire was dress slacks, yellow shirt with our school name, dress shoes and dark socks. No jerseys were allowed in the school building (that was for your girlfriend who wore your non-game jersey) and variations were highly frowned upon. We were all supposed to look the same, uniform, nothing different. When you entered the gymnasium for the pep rally seniors went first followed by juniors and then us lowly sophomores. In the stands seniors sat in the lowest seats, then juniors and once again up in the hottest seats, sophomores. This made some sense actually because the seniors were largely the varsity and the captains for that game were usually asked to say a few words. Having them closer to the floor was only practical. I know because when my time came as a senior I delivered those “few words” a couple of times. It was not my favorite thing to do. Standing out in a crowd wasn’t in my comfort zone then and it isn’t now. Still, I wasn’t a fan of being just part of the crowd either.

I realized then as I do now that having all of us dressed similarly was a unity builder, giving the appearance of togetherness and harmony, all for one and one for all and all that happy stuff. I didn’t buy it. It was my belief that it took more than the same clothes and some informal caste system to instill solidarity. I wasn’t part of the inner circle of the leaders on the team but as the season wore on I could spot bits and pieces, small things that happened that made me realize things were not all hunky dory amongst the teammates. It only got more pronounced when the season didn’t unfold like the seniors wanted. By the time the season was two thirds of the way over it was clear this would not be the varsity’s year. The sophomore and JV teams on the other hand were doing very well. We were victorious over several of the best programs in our area, something the varsity hadn’t done on their level in many years. While some of the varsity guys grumbled that we were just beating those other teams’ “scrubs” any sign of success helped gain momentum. It created some tension because the pipsqueaks, those lower on the totem pole, were getting attention.

Some of the older guys were genuinely glad to see us doing well but some of them resented it and it showed. The crazy thing was that the distaste they had for us (and who could blame them) actually galvanized our class like no yellow shirt ever could. When your group is attacked you either close ranks or you flee. We stuck together. Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t say some of our class didn’t rub it in just a bit. After all we were the “less-thans” making good. We were the guys on the bottom rung who were expected to keep our heads down and be invisible. Slowly we became the identity of the program. By the end of the year, even though we were still only playing during mop-up times and here and there on special teams on varsity we knew that this was our team.

Two years later when it literally was our team we still wore the same yellow shirts, same dress slacks, same shoes and socks and we still paraded into the gym in the same hierarchy. Tradition is a tough thing to break. To me how we looked on the outside didn’t matter. I wanted the younger guys to step forward and lead their teams too. I wanted them to take on those roles while we were still around to show them how it could be done. That’s an internal thing. I knew that all too soon it would be their banner to take up and carry for everyone to see. I spoke at those pep rallies but I was still the guy happy to be out of the spotlight, just a part of the team, the real team, doing my best and doing my job.

I suppose I still am.


Ever get pushed into conformity? Did you rebel? I sure did later on in life, maybe still do. I’d like to hear your story either way. You can tell it below.



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