Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 1992: Redneckaphobia

Academic team is really the only thing I miss about high school. We were The Beast of the Lake Cumberland Academic Conference (us, North Laurel, SW Pulaski, Somerset, Wayne County, Monticello, Lincoln County, etc.) throughout my career, never losing a league game and laying waste to all in our path. Our first real challenge of the year was always Madison Central in the finals of the Regional Governor's Cup.

(My senior year, this game almost led to the first in-game brawl in the history of academic team, but that is a story for another day. Yes, there was almost a fight in the middle of a freaking academic team game. Thug life. I am not making that up).

But all of this was a moot point. To be considered good in the grand scheme of things, you had to be able to play with and beat the Lexington and Louisville schools. The magnet schools. The schools where the kids went whose parents had Ph.D.s, lots of money, and Mensa-level genetics. Otherwise you were just an also-ran from Podunkville, Ky.

My junior year we got a chance to get a taste of state-level competition without the pressure of win-or-go-home State Governor's Cup thanks to the geniuses who came up with the Holiday Bowl, an invitation-only tournament for the state's sixteen best quick recall teams. Like State, it was held at the Executive West in Louisville.

Considering the top-to-bottom level of competition, it was a given that there would be no warm-up -- we would be tossed right into the fire. Our first-round opponent was Louisville Ballard. We didn't know much about them, but the word "Louisville" in their name reflexively made us think of a row of future Rhodes Scholars bound for Yale and Princeton, cracking wry smiles as they backhanded questions about fractals, particle physics, and Gaussian curves. DuPont Manual won the state quick recall title every other year, and they were in the same league.

So the game commenced. We were playing in the chapel. Fingers on hairtrigger, we held our own. I can still remember the surge of adrenaline we had when we looked up at each other at halftime and had the lead.

It was time to switch sides. When we went over to the other table, I saw that the scratch paper the Ballard player had left at my spot had some writing on it. Normally at halftime you wadded your paper up and threw it away. I'm not sure if it was to prevent the other team from looking at it and seeing how much or how little you knew or simply a matter of etiquette to leave them a clean area, but we had always done it under some sort of unwritten rule. So the paper quickly caught my attention.

I read the only thing on it that wasn't crossed out: "I ain't scared of y'all."

I showed the other guys. We all got a little snicker out of it. We're playing in the big time now, guys. Trash talk in an academic team game. These city slickers callin' us hillbillies. The same hillbillies who, incidentally, are currently besting them in a competition that measures knowledge.

You can probably see where this story is going, so I won't prolong the drama any more. We won the game, and with it one of the sweetest victories of my entire career. Not just because it was a Louisville school, but because it was a Louisville school with a superiority complex.

The Ballardians slunk away after the post-game handshakes, dour faces giving insight into the self-refelction that must follow losing to a team you had ridiculed only minutes before as being inherently inferior. We took the liberty of sneaking in some inappropriately loud "skeered" and "y'all"s into our post-game banter.

And yes, I still have that paper. I kept it as a trophy.