My Three Greatest Sports Accomplishments (So Far)
Intercepting a Pitch and Running it Back for a TD – 1989
The year was 1989. On August 2nd, Iraq had invaded Kuwait, prompting the US Armed Forces to initiate Operation: Desert Shield, later to escalate to Operation: Desert Storm. America was ill at ease, and this great nation was looking for distraction and a hero.
Cut to Dallas, Texas. A young upstart named Penn Collins has recently moved to the Highland Park neighborhood, where football is king. A man without a country, Penn has no friends, no ties, and something to prove. He signs up for 4th grade YMCA football. However, his enormous carriage, even at the age of 9, prevents him from being a star. In the interest of safety, no player over 105 pounds can be handed the ball in the 4th grade league.
Relegated to the offensive line, Penn makes short work of any defensive player who is unlucky enough to cross his path. However, the glory remains elusive. But one fateful October morning (we played our games on Saturday mornings, you see) Penn and destiny would meet.
Lining up on the defensive side of the ball, he anticipated the snap count and swam through two lineman who were blocking on a slow-developing pitch play. He finds myself in the backfield with a clear line to the quarterback, but doesn’t commit. Instead, he plays the pitch, picking it off in midair at his own 20-yard line, running it back for a touchdown and the game. He gets the game ball and a high school assistant coach of our team refers to the play as “sweet.” Penn has never heard this term before and wonders why high school kids in this new town are talking like his grandmother.
Lacrosse Goal with a Broken Thumb, or “Penn’s an Amazing Athlete and Person”
Having grown up through high school in Highland Park, after 4th grade, I left the Highland Park school district to attend St. Mark’s, a private school in north Dallas. There was no love lost between the public school athletic juggernaut and the small prep school. Both schools hosted scores of well-off white boys with something to prove. How do well-off white boys determine who’s best? On the lacrosse field.
We weren’t supposed to win this game. Highland Park, despite having a newer lacrosse program, had over 400 kids per class, offering a deeper well from which to draw athletic talent. My school had around 68 kids, depending on how many of my friends had been expelled that year. It was an all boys school, so the disparity in athletics isn’t as big as it might seem.
I played attack, which is like forward in soccer. I’m the guy that scores. At this point I was about 6’4” 205, so I was able to barrel in towards the goal over smaller defenders. Despite my being a lacrosse novice, the strategy worked and I was tallying around 2-3 goals per game. Little did I know I was playing on borrowed time. The bigger Highland Park defenders had been keeping me in check as the first half drew to a close. With no more than 4 minutes left in the half, I get a pass and make my move towards the goal. The defender keeps me at bay and manages to poke-check the ball loose. It falls to the ground and as I reach to scoop it, my glove on my left (dominant) hand slides down, exposing my wrist. No sooner does that happen than another defensive player, none other than my best friend’s older brother, Rob Wilhite, belts my hand with this stick. The pain is excruciating, yet the ball remains loose. I gingerly scoop the ball, but unable to cradle it, I simply hold it in my stick like an egg on a spoon, moving towards the goal. Seeing a gap, I shoot through and launch the ball with all my might. The ball travels at maybe 20 MPH over the goalies left thigh to give us our first goal of the game.
I pull myself out of the game due to the pain and go to the training room. The trainer tells me that my thumb is fractured in two places, an assertion that is later confirmed by X-rays. I have two pins surgically inserted into my thumb during a one-hour operation that I got to watch. I still have the pins in a desk in storage.
Penn’s Legendary Basketball Evening
I’m a 14 year-old Freshman standing 6’4”. We are playing our arch-rivals, Dallas Christian, a team that has two Freshman (Jordan Black and Chu Freeman) starting for the Varsity squad, but also being brought down to play on the Freshman team. The coaches for Dallas Christian were a bunch of heartless bastards.
Anyway, I play on the Freshman team with a decent performance. I think I had like 15 points and probably around 10 boards. We won our game, and the team was feeling good about things. However, with one of the JV centers out with the flu, the coach asks if I will play for the JV team. Feeling both a sense of duty and a deep hatred of those polesmokers from Dallas Christian, I oblige. I come off the bench, but as the starting center gets in foul trouble, I see my playing time increase in the second half and am able to effectively stop Jordan Black, their 6’7” 270 pound center. I finish the game with 6 points, 8 boards, and 4 blocks. More importantly, Jordan Black finished the game with only 6 points. I did my job.
A little too well, perhaps. The Varsity coach knew that Black would be playing that game as well, so I was enlisted to play the varsity game, my third basketball game of the night. With adrenaline pumping as I warmed up (though I really didn’t need a warm-up at this point) with the Varsity team, I decided to leave it all out on Dallas Christian’s ugly basketball court.
I play in front of Black all night, shutting him the fuck down. He is winded after playing as many games as I have, but I’m showing no signs of faltering, running the court on fast breaks and shutting down passing lanes as soon as they’re found. (I credit my newly-acquired smoking habit that year for the endurance.)
Penn: 12 points, 9 boards
Gigantaur: 6 points, 5 boards.
We overachieve and win the game with two Jace Musselman free throws at the end, and Penn gets three game balls for three games. In one night. Fuck yeah.