As summer neared each year, our school became serious about maintaining Labadieville Elementary’s preeminence at the parish sports rally.
Those rallies had a few painful aspects, but provided learning experiences and at least one ethical dilemma.
My first competitive disappointment came in second grade when I tried out for the marble team. I was confident. I usually made it home with more marbles than I started the day with.
But, to my disappointment, I learned at our first practice that we weren’t playing the usual recess game in which everybody put a pair of marbles in a little box drawn with a finger in the dust.
We were playing bull ring. The principal stabbed a nail into the ground and drew a large radius. I didn’t have the thumb strength for the game. Cut from the team, I tried to bring honor to my school by racing in a burlap sack.
Later I did better at three-legged racing when paired with my friend Rodney with whom I had a well-matched gait. But when running dashes, Rodney was faster than I. I practiced hard, and at the next rally my first goal was to beat Rodney and my second goal was to beat all of the other schools.
At the crack of the pistol I ran with all my might and didn’t look to my right until we reached the tape. Rodney’s chest hit it first.
Surprised when a judge pulled me aside, I pointed to Rodney and said: “I didn’t win. He did.”
“I know,” said the judge. “But you finished third. You get a ribbon too.”
Last week, about 50 years after a subsequent rally, Rodney and I were playing golf, when I pointed out spiny stickers on the fairway. We both began to laugh.
In seventh grade we had played on the rally softball team. Our coach told us to go to the host school barefooted so we could run faster. We found the diamond covered with stickers. It took every bit of our competitive spirits to chase flies. Each step hurt.
The next year proved more painful to our prides if not to our feet. Rodney, Ray Gautreaux and I were picked to coach the team. Again we walked into an unpleasant surprise. Someone had changed the rules from slow- to fast-pitch softball.
From the first inning, our team got walloped. Rodney, Ray and I faced the ethical dilemma. All three of us played baseball, and knew we could hit fast pitching. We debated inserting ourselves into the lineup. None of the other teams were likely to know we were a year too old.
We rationalized that it would be only fair, since nobody had told us about the rule change. We almost sucked ourselves in with that rationalization.
I realize now that one of the things that kept my friendship with Rodney close is that he’s always done what was right, and I usually have too.
We took a pounding that day, but I don’t think either of us regret it.