Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Uncoolest Cool Kid in School

I went to one of our school's baseball games recently to cheer on the team. A few of my students and a few others I know slightly are playing, and I genuinely enjoy cheering them on. Shortly after I arrived and checked in with my colleagues to find out about the score, I looked, through the chain link fence, up and down the bench until I found Richie.

The kid I'll call Richie is the subject of this post, the Uncoolest Cool Kid in School. He's one of the kindest, gentlest most young men I've ever met. He's not exactly shy; I wouldn't quite say he keeps to himself. He just doesn't say more than is necessary in any given situation. And he's nice to everyone, even to kids who seem very different from him.

In a school in which most of the males strive to live up to a macho or at least class-clown-ish ideal, Richie, with his quiet and unassailable dignity, simply opts out, day after day. It just isn't his game. And yet no one says a word to him--no teasing, no freezing him out. Everyone treats him with same calm courtesy with which he treats them. I know adults who don't have the strong sense of self, somehow merged with a complete lack of ego, that Richie has.

Richie wasn't playing during that game. He was fully dressed, of course, his jersey tucked neatly into his trousers and his ever-present cross necklace tucked into his jersey. While his teammates whooped, shouted, and chattered at the other team as much as their coach would allow, Richie sat on the bench with a clipboard, keeping the stats for the game. He offered hearty applause for hits and a solid "All right" for runs. But for the most part, he sat and kept the stats.

Anyone could see that he stood out. I did. Sometimes I worry about Richie, and I worried about him then. Will four years of high school get to Richie, or will his remarkable strength of character carry him all the way through? Time will tell, I suppose. I guess I just have to keep showing up to the games, waiting to see Richie at bat. If he hits, I'll applaud. If he scores, I'll call out, loudly but calmly, "All right, all right."
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