When Coach “Shorty” Williams cracked a bone in Jimmy Joye’s wrist while paddling him, the world changed in an instant, and it changed hard. The Coaches, and all of them were football coaches, baseball coaches, math teachers, substitute teachers, and basically the school Gestapo, all carried their own paddles with them wherever they went inside the school.
It wasn’t a question of if someone was going to get paddled it was merely a question of when. The coaches, particularly men like Coach Owens, who taught Driver’s Ed, were a sadistic lot. Owens would paddle you for not turning on your blinker at the right moment, or taking a turn too quickly, or even for not reading his mind as to where you were supposed to go. He and Shorty had this thing going where one of them would stop someone in the hallway and ask them where they were going. If the kid stopped to talk he might be late, and therefore get paddled. If he ignored a Coach he would get paddled. If he ran to be on time he would get paddled. Shorty and Owens loved this game.
They would also grab a kid, and by the way, it was always young men, and never young women, but they would simply grab a kid and tell him he was getting paddled. If he told them he hadn’t done anything, that was “talking back” so he would get paddled twice. That’s what happened to Jimmy. But he was tired of the abuse, and he was trying to get away, and put his hand back to far, and Short popped him hard.
The paddles were short pieces of boards, usually with a handle, and often with holes cut in them to make it hurt more. When Shorty tagged Jimmy, Jimmy let out a yelp but Shorty was going to get his pound of flesh. Jimmy’s wrist swelled up and finally, hours later, they called his Mom.
All. Hell. Broke. Loose.
To begin with, Jimmy begged them to call his parents and they threatened to paddle him if he didn’t shut up. Then when they called his Mom, they told her he had been injured in the gym. Mom gets there, picks Jimmy up and they go to the hospital where a fracture is discovered in Jimmy’s wrist. Mom works as a secretary for one of the lawyers in town.
The next morning Mom shows up in the Boys’ Locker Room office looking for Shorty and looking for blood. In a voice loud enough for us to hear it in the locker room, she tells Shorty he’s going to write her a check for five hundred dollars, now, right now, this very instant, and don’t tell me to calm down, I am calm, but that’s not going to last very long.
Shorty has to go to his meat wagon looking white van and get his checkbook, and write a check on the spot. Then Mom takes Jimmy to the principal’s office, and it begins anew. Someone who was in the office at the time said she got face to face with the principal and told him the next time anyone hit her son she was going to take that paddle and beat him to death with it.
For my part, I got away with a lot more than I got caught doing. The threat of being paddled never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do. It did scare some of the kids, and the idea the teachers had that much authority over a student meant something to a lot of kids. I think schools were safer when there was more discipline, but I also know there were those teachers who took it too far simply because there was no one there to stop them.
One of my sisters is a teacher, and parents will come in now and throw a real fit because their kid failed a test. The fact the kid can’t spell cat and is in the ninth grade, “Don’t matter none” as the last set of parents told her.
I’m pretty sure the list of things I learned in high school is a short list. I’m equally confident there wasn’t a coach qualified to teach tic tac toe on a good day. But no one ever shot anyone else, and all our fights, even the bloody ones, never really hurt anyone, and likely, you’d get a paddling for that, and then move on and be friends with whoever you fought.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.