Four Square and other thoughts

by Admin / 5. November 2006 08:05

The intro to Jimmy Hendrix’s rendition of “All along the Watchtower” blares in my head, and I step out of the line and into the first square. As I strut into place, everything is in slow motion and I am pointing across the four square court directly at Jose. Our eyes are locked and I can sense his fear. I generally don’t single kids out, they’re all my enemies on the playground, but this is an exception. Ten minutes ago Jose made the grave mistake of eliminating me moments after I selflessly saved him. It’s time for redemption. I tell him he’s going down and he doesn’t crack a smile because he knows I’m dead serious. Jacob serves the ball and I rip into it with a hint of spin directly at Jose’s feet.

This is a slightly (very slightly) exaggerated snapshot from one of hundreds of four square sessions I’ve had these past two months with my students. Sometimes I feel guilty about calling this work because playing Billy Madison on the playground three times a day is so much fun. It feels like meditation. For an hour or two a day I have no worries as I laugh and play with the kids. Unlike many of us working in education, my regular school day is not very relenting. Although I will begin teaching individuals and small groups of remedial students in the near future, which should prove to be very difficult, I rarely have had to teach my own class thus far. Nonetheless, my placement is not without its own daunting aspects.

In addition to my responsibilities as a teacher’s aid and after school coordinator, I coach the seventh and eighth grade soccer team. Undoubtedly, this has been one of the most frustrating jobs I have ever had. During our last three games we have lost by a combined score of 22-0. There have been moments that I have nearly lost my mind as I convince myself that my players are purposely opposing my instruction to see me turn a darker shade of red, lose the remainder of my voice, or maybe develop an ulcer. But as I watch the opposing team’s soccer moms cheer for their kids and their diehard coaches scheme ways to score another nine goals, I remember why I am here. Not a single parent from Bellesini Academy has showed up for a game. Not even a home game (where, by the way, the field is not lined and must be scoured for broken bottles of Old E and Corona before every game/practice). Furthermore, a recreational soccer league does not exist in the entire city of Lawrence. These kids have never been exposed to a competitive team sport and lack parents who support them in positive, extracurricular activities. As cliche as it may sound, the purpose of my job is not to assemble a winning team, but to expose vulnerable kids to sportsmanship and guide them in an alternative to the streets. So as I watch my goalie throw the ball into the back of his defenders head, knocking him to the ground and giving the other team an open shot on net, I take comfort in knowing that these children are actively being saved.

While I have dedicated my blog entry to Bellesini Academy, it is, of course, only one aspect of my volunteer experience. The spiritual facet of my life is as intense and influential as it has ever been. I also belong to a community alongside three special people that I have had the unparalleled pleasure of getting to know. Opening more doors within each other is the most highly anticipated development to come this year. I am having an incredible volunteer experience and I look forward to reuniting with the greater community in January. During our retreat, I plan on imposing four square participation upon anyone who wants to remain my friend. On that note, I advise you to start training for the competition now, unless you want to end up like Jose.

Brian O’Neill

Lawrence, MA 2006-2007

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Domestics 2006-2007

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