Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Growing Up in Himni, Utah - Episode 13

# 13 – Szhungaelzee

Mitch Warner and I and few others were cleaning up the stage after the School Play our senior year. We just about had things tidied up when somebody (Hall of Famers won’t like the lack of a specific name.) kicked a roll of masking tape across the floor. Somebody else kicked it back and the game of Szhungaelzee was born. In seconds, four chairs were set up, as goals, at opposite ends of the bare stage and a full blown scrimmage was underway. Not entirely original, Szhungaelzee was played with the feet, like soccer, with a puck (the masking tape) like hockey, preferably on a hardwood floor. We had a ball that afternoon playing, developing rules, strategy, technique and terminology.

We were on a mission! Before we went to bed that night the game had been named, the puck had been renamed the Raquephrat, the rules had been committed to memory and two teams had been formed. It was commonly agreed that most sports had been buried so deep in rules that they had become stodgy and mechanical. Szhungaelzee’s rules were bare bones at best. We considered Sunday shoes as required equipment. A slightly rebelious way to thumb our noses at the school coaches, who were constantly whining about the gym floor during dances. We threw it out though, knowing we’d never find a place to play if we did. The number one rule was: All comers are welcome! We didn’t ever want Szhungaelzee to become elitist and political like High School sports had become.

Can you sense a tone of bitterness here? You should. There were a lot of us who were bitter about showing up every Friday night to worship the chosen few. In fact that’s how Szhungaelzee got it’s name. We used to sit in the stands at the ball games and make up our own cheers. Stuff like, “Lean to the Left, Lean to the Left, Lean to the Left again, rah (or was it raw?)!” At which point the one farthest on the left made like he’d been shoved off the end of the bleachers. Good fun. One day Mitch showed up with a new one. He’d heard it in a movie or read it in a book somewhere. It was a cheer from some college named Shelgamy. It went, “”S” Stands for Shelgamy, “H” stants for Hit. Shelgamy, Shelgamy, (clap) (clap) (clap).” Anyway, Mitch couldn’t, for the life of him, remember Shelgamy so in order to render it for us he came up with an invented college named “Szhungaelzee!” It was irreverent I know. That was the point. There were no intramural sports. There was no E in PE. Only the elite got a real shot at playing ball of any kind. We were synical about the whole athlete thing and this was our subtle statement about it all. Anyway, when we played Szhungaelzee, the cheer was implied and the whole thing represented a sneer at the establishment. This was the late sixties after all.

The next day the stage was locked, the gym was occupied and we were dying for a quick game during the lunch hour. The new Himni High had a hall just for the Arts department. It dead ended at the band room. It wasn’t all that wide, but it had little traffic, so it worked. Douglas Winger sneaked one past Pee Wee Lundquist, our goalie, and the Raquephrat slid out into the main hall. Douglas, who was Himni’s pre-eminent scholar and kept a pretty low profile at school, was in hot pursuit. He was already developing his famous sliding swoop and attempted to use it to bring the masking tape back into play. He slid on his side out into the main hall intending to hook the Raquephrat with is right foot and swoop it back the other direction. Just as he made the hook though, Mrs. Celestia Hopewell’s right foot stepped right on the tape. Douglas was already looking back in our direction. I guess there wasn’t time for him to see the horror in our faces. In what seemed like slow motion (which hadn’t been invented yet), Douglas swooped. Celestia went one way and the puck went the other. After we gathered Mrs. Hopewell up from the floor, she marched us all the to office. She was kind enough to acknowledge it was an accident, but we were forever banned from playing Szhungaelzee in the hall.

Pee Wee attended the Grant Ward and his Dad had a key to the building. We got permission to use the gym at the church and scheduled our first game for the following Thursday. The Raquephrat Kickers defeated the Anti-Jocks by a score of 12 to 7! Each team consisted of six players. Pee Wee was our goalie. The spread of his two size 12 feet left exactly the width of a roll of masking tape between the pop bottles we used as goal posts. It was hard to get one past him. The most exciting part was the turn out! There were probably 80 spectators. Three more teams were organized by night’s end. Another signed up the following afternoon. We had a league!

Lew Hopkins was Student Body President that year. I don’t think he ever joined a team, but he showed up every Thursday to cheer us on. On Friday mornings, when he did the announcements over the intercom at school, Lew would read the Szhungaelzee scores. This drew more excitement and before long we had huge crowds showing up Thursday evenings at the Grant Ward Cultural Hall.

Then problems began, especially at my house. (Mom and Dad were both on the faculty.) The establishment was not pleased. It began with the coaches and my dad. I guess they felt threatened. I guess they thought we were encroaching on their turf. Maybe they feared economic repercussions. Like Communism this cancer had to be erradicated. Initially, they tried to “talk sense” into us. It was quickly obvious that wasn’t going to work. Threats followed. Still we played on. Then one night we showed up at the church to find the key no longer worked and a note on the door indicating the “brethren” had determined that they could no longer permit our activity. Liability and law suits were not a concern. Those were the days when the troop rode to camp in the back of the Scoutmaster’s pickup truck. We checked the other meeting houses with the same results. We had been black balled!

When I got home that night my father and mother were not speaking to one another. Dad, who’d seemed pretty puffed up for about a week, looked pretty humble. I’d heard a heated rumble in their bedroom the night before. All I could make out was Mom saying, “…it’s good clean fun!” and something about “…a bunch of self agrandizing bullies!” Nothing was ever said to me, but I’m sure Mom didn’t approve of his strong arming us kids into submission. It helped to know Mom stuck up for us.

And so, Szhungaelzee died. Perhaps it’s just as well. I might have gone pro and ruined my whole life with fame and lavish excess. Since then, while the jocks waste countless hours couched in front of ball games on TV, I enjoy days and days hiking on the mountain. While they hobble around the golf course on aching knees, I backpack in the Grand Canyon. While they relive their youth by yelling at their kids on the little leage field, I fly kites with mine. They got what they wanted and, in the end, so did I.

1 comment:

Kate Weber said...

This is one of my favorite stories. I still believe that you should get all of these printed. I have a free coupon you could use!

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