8th Grade Stories

I was in 8th grade for the 1974-1975 school year. For some reason, my mother kept the 1975 edition of Comet, the yearbook of Ophelia Parrish Junior High School. I just re-discovered it.

8th grade was a bad year for me. I had decided in 7th grade that “social studies” was watered down US history, and that I didn’t respect social studies teachers because of their demonstrable incompetence.

I decided that I cared so little for “social studies” and the bozos who taught it that I would do nothing, and do nothing in as obnoxious a fashion as possible, during “social studies” class periods.

I worked hard at flunking “social studies” my 8th grade year. I drove Mrs Coy to teaching typing, and her replacement Mr Zumwalt to quit teaching. I may be overstating my influence on them, but I did what I could to make my time with them unpleasant for all of us. I can’t recall who replaced Mr Zumwalt, possibly one Mr Eitel. I never did pass the state-required Missouri history test. Technically, I should not have graduated to high school. Don’t tell anyone.

Bobby Sullivan

That’s Bobby Sullivan, who I can’t find on the Internet anywhere, except maybe on a “find a grave” website. Bobby rode my school bus, R-10, a notoriously ill-behaved bus. He was a suck-up as I recall, not liked by either the cool kids, or the undifferentiated mass of rejects. I remember him getting the nickname “Toady Groady”, but I can’t recall why. Until I found him in the 1975 Comet I thought he was a grade ahead of me.

R-10 bus route made a stop by the A&W drive-in on the north end of Kirksville. Bobby Sullivan got on the bus there. I have no idea where he actually lived.

Coach Keith Jerome

A picture of “Coach” Keith Jerome. He was one of two “physical education” teachers at Ophelia Parrish Junior High. As near as I could tell, he thought I was developmentally disabled.

As a method of demonstrating contempt for learning, the Ophelia Parrish Junior High administration and faculty alternated quarters of science and PE. That’s right, wimpy, diluted “social studies” got a full school year, but science only got half a year.

We had to shower at the end of any PE class period, which was pretty awful. The showers were a fungus encrusted cave. So I skipped showering. Since I was already working at flunking “social studies”, I definitely didn’t care about PE grades.

At the end of one PE period, I got dressed in a hurry, came up the stairs from the locker room, and walked out on the stage that was at one end of the gym to wait for the bell.

Down on the gym floor, some guy who was on the junior high football team had wrestled Bobby Sullivan to the floor and was slamming Bobby’s head into the corner between the wall and the floor of the gym. Bobby was crying, blubbering.

“Coach” Jerome walked into the gym and checked who was getting beaten and who was doing the beating. Jerome saw it was Bobby Sullivan, and walked away.

“Coach” Jerome was just fine with letting a bully punish a student that Jerome was too cowardly to punish himself. This was probably illegal even by the terrible standards of 1975. It was certainly unethical.

This had to have been awful for Bobby. He was getting beaten up, and nobody, absolutely nobody, would stop it. Not even teachers. He was alone, and he could be used as a punching bag by some more popular kid.

I regret not even thinking of going to the office and reporting the whole thing.

I had already spent some time in the principal’s office that year, and the school year before. I was familiar to the school secretaries and the principal. I could have turned “Coach” Jerome in. I can’t help but feel this is an indictment of me personally.

“Coach” Jerome sent me to the office later in the year, as I recall for refusing to square dance, but maybe my memory is weak. I followed his directions of “go to the office” to the letter. I walked to the office and sat in one of the chairs. After a few minutes, one of the secretaries asked me why I was there. I said that “some fat man in the gym told me to go to the office”. This led to some questions about who this man was, and me denying that I’d ever heard that a “coach” was actually a “teacher”, with the subtext that I didn’t have to give a “coach” the same respect I had to give to a “teacher”. I recall that the secretary or maybe the principal telling me that a coach was indeed a teacher, and that I had to do what the coach told me to do.

I ended up getting told to go to the library instead of the gym during the PE period the rest of that quarter. Not a form of punishment in my view.

I didn’t realize in 1975 how much seeing Bobby Sullivan get beat up affected me. The lesson I learned from “Coach” Jerome is that any student not in the in-group was pretty much on their own. No teacher would protect an out-group member from bullies or cool kids. This lesson stuck with me unconsciously through high school.