FloMo Diaries, Installment 3: Extracurricular

*I mentioned earlier that I was inspired by an idea David Byrne (co-founder of the great Talking Heads) had. He bought a bike and cycled around the various places his artistic life took him and write a book about what he noticed. Taking a page out of that book, I’ve started writing down nuances of my suburban culture of Flower Mound, Texas, as I meander through in car, on feet or in coffee shops. For a few weeks, anyway.*

It was spring of my 5th grade year that I learned exactly what I would NOT be doing as an extracurricular activity.

Nearly 3 decades later the details of how that trombone got in my room for an afternoon are somewhat sketchy. If memory serves, the music teacher at my elementary school began recruiting for concert band, which began in 6th grade. We all got out of our normal class routine and went to the music room and the teacher chatted with us for a minute and then somehow determined what musical instrument suited us best. We got to take it home for the afternoon.

I have no idea why he chose trombone for me after our minute-and-a-half interview. It didn’t matter. There was a brief lesson on how to play it and take it apart and put it back in the case. Then I lugged it the mile walk home from school and was having quite the Ferris Bueller “Never-Had-One-Lesson” time. A couple of hours in my room making a horribly joyful noise.

Then my dad knocked on my door…home from the steel mill. The exchange went something like this:

“What ‘cha got there, son?”

“It’s a trombone, Dad! The music teacher gave it to me for the afternoon and wanted me to see if I liked it or not and if I did I might could play it in concert band at school and they’d give lessons and…”

“Do you carry that across a goal line?” he interrupted.

“No…”

“Does it fit through a hoop? Do you shoot in in a goal?”

“No…”

“What about running bases? Does it run bases? Or do you hit it over a net? Anything like that?”

“No…”

“Then you ain’t playing it. Put on your sneakers and let’s go play some HORSE.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t ruined for life because my dreams of playing in a jazz combo were forever squashed right then and there. I’m pretty sure I had a fun afternoon playing basketball in the driveway with my dad because I had fun playing whatever sport was in season with my dad whenever he came home from work. We had a makeshift baseball diamond (had to play between the houses so as not to break glass with foul balls) or driveway foul lanes or gridiron with our yard and next-door neighbor Al’s yard (the cluster of trees by the street often made nice blockers on punt returns) and even a backyard hockey goal with one of mom’s old sheets as a net. All with my steel-working dad.

But that day influenced my choices for my extracurricular activities for the rest of my school years. Well, maybe. By the time I was 11, I’d already seen Brooks Robinson highlights and was doing book reports on Nolan Ryan and was watching Monday Night Football (got to stay up late) and listening to college games on the radio (this used to actually happen before cable television). So, maybe I was geared for sports. I certainly gravitated for them, even if I wasn’t great at them.

Now, my suburban middle school and high school offered the full menu of extracurricular activities. There were sports (including cheerleading, which has become a sport, but back then it wasn’t a competitive team sport). All the normal things like school newspaper and yearbook staff were available. The honor societies. The band had a whole lot of options, from marching to jazz to peop bands and the like. Drama and choir were around, too, putting on plays and shows. The requisite math and foreign language and academic clubs were all there. The service clubs were around. There were the “on-the-fly” clubs the came together of common interests, like the Hackey Sack club. The student council. The class officers. We had them all…even the famed Audio/Visual Club, which back then involved setting up movie projectors and film strips, with retractable screens.

Now the sports and band and drama and choir deals all got a specific period each day…athletics was last. I think band was first. I think drama was during or after the lunch period. The other clubs got to meet during the school day once a month. We had a special schedule the first week of the month on Tuesdays and Thursdays where the clubs would meet and fulfill whatever their purpose happened to be. Or maybe plan when they’d get together and execute their purpose.

I don’t know exactly because for my four years of high school I wasn’t in a club.

At all.

None.

Maybe because they didn’t involve a court or net or goal or maybe it was because Kim Markovich said something like, “I don’t think I want to be in any club this year so I’m just going to stay in homeroom.” She was a cheerleader. She was in my homeroom. About eight or 10 of us thought that sounded good. We called it “Homeroom Club.” My extracurricular activity for three years was to be near Kim Markovich and try to figure out a way to get her to go on a date with me. Then she moved to Florida, and the Homeroom Club was ingrained with me and Mike Mayhan and Keith Martens and Greg Lozano that we just stuck it out that last year. It was never the same without Kim, but I digress.

My point in all this is that is seemed so much simpler in the early 1980’s. If I wanted to stay in Homeroom Club or play baseball or be in the band or join the Hackey Sack club, you joined. If you weren’t interested in those things, you didn’t join. There was an honesty and a purity to being a part of the club. Sure, there were a few type-A’s that joined clubs like it was going out of style because of some pressure to get that resume looking good. But most people joined those clubs because they had some sort of unifying interest in that particular club…even if it was a cheerleader.

Nowdays, it seems like middle and high schoolers have started joining clubs they don’t even care about because some counselor told them they needed to get some things on their resume for college. Needed to show some ghost of an admissions representative at some random university that you’re “well rounded.” I can’t tell you the number of teenagers who join things they aren’t interested in to pad the old resume.

I know that I’ve had teens go on our church mission trip because they needed something like that to look good for their resume. Now, that’s not all bad, mind you…because I’ve seen dramatic changes in teens’ perspectives no matter what the initial motivation of any kid might be.

It also seems to me that the extracurriculars are incredibly specialized these days. For example, I know a student who was on the cross country team at the local high school. They train before school, but somehow the training bleeds into the first period class or something like that. Anyway, this student thought they might like to play their trumpet in the band. No dice. Band practices in the parking lot before school starts. Counselor said it simply wasn’t possible. Gotta choose one or the other. Keep in mind: This was in the SUMMER BEFORE 9th GRADE. They had to choose between two things they wanted to try and that decision, in many ways, cannot be corrected.

But, in this particular case, the band does indeed practice before school every day during marching season. And, they practice after school in that same parking lot every day for two to three hours. And, each section usually grabs another hour for extra work during the school day. Don’t even get me started on the drum line, who is out there all day every day somehow. Realtors don’t show homes in the neighborhood across the street from that parking lot during hours the drum line is out there in the summer.

It’s the same for sports, too. Teens have to choose one sport or the other before 9th grade because the practice schedule is so demanding for every sport. Football is a year-round endeavor…with camps and 7-on-7 tournaments and weight training schedules and all that. Same for baseball. In 1981, our high school team won the state championship and went 30-5. That’s 35 games. Baseball season was over in mid-May and summer was “off” until football two-a-days started in August. But now, kids will play their 30-game high school season, then hook up with their summer travel team and play around 40 games. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I have high school sophomores that play nearly 90 games a year when you include “Fall ball.”

What all of this does is create mastery of one particular activity (our local high school band won a national championship, as have area drum lines, which have their own particular championship–I know–but there were 8 national championship bands in 2008 if I read Google right, so I’m not sure what that means) at the expense of trying to figure out what you like and what you don’t like.

That mastery is pretty good, too.

Ever seen a high school yearbook these days? They’re 600 glossy color pages of goodness that truly documents a year. Sure, there are photos of kids in their classes and club photos and teachers and all that, but there are quality journalism pieces on everything from kids in school who do X-Games type sports to anorexia to fashion trends and all that jazz. It’s incredible to see.

Ever seen a school newspaper these days? There are themes and they all look like mini-New York Posts. Great cover photography. Excellent journalism. Themes for the week.

They win awards, too. The idea is to go to the state championship for these things.

Ever seen a school play these days? Suffice to say that technology helps, but the sets and the talent (some of whom have private drama teachers, much like athletes get private coaches) and the sound and lighting (all of whom have their own clubs) are top drawer. It often costs $12 at the door to see a high school play, too.

So, here in FloMo, we have incredible opportunities for our teens to be involved in extracurricular activities. Our bands and teams and newspapers and yearbooks and dramas and choirs do indeed win all sorts of awards and championships (who knew there was a drama state champion, right?). Our teens often get the very best chances to be great at those areas they specialize in…

…even if the motive is to pad a resume to look good for some admissions counselor.

…even if it’s at the price of an unbelievable amount of time commitment.

…even if it’s at the price of a significant financial commitment.

…even if it’s at the expense of maybe missing out on something else they might enjoy because there isn’t time and money to do both. I mean, I have no idea if I’d enjoy the jazz combo or not, right?

And, I wonder how much of this comes from the teachers and parents…

…to have the very best team/band/theater/choir and win championships.

…to “keep our kids out of trouble.”

…to re-live our high school glory days or try to correct whatever glory we wanted but didn’t get in high school.

Even with the huge upside of excellence (and, frankly, it is a HUGE upside), and the real joy of friendships and experiences developed in those various activities, and the interests that get developed and mastered…

…the lack of pressure days being a part of something because you enjoyed it, even if that meant three years of Homeroom Club trying to hit on Kim Markovich, are long gone.

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