Fifty days into his new job as principal of Conway High School, Almost Dr. Wapp (Day #216) invited me to come tell stories and play catch at his school.
The day began telling catch-playing stories of audacious hope in Mrs. Spradling’s English III class. I encouraged students to live out W. P. Kinsella’s words from Shoeless Joe, “If I had my life to live over again, I’d take more chances. I’d want more passion in my life. Less fear and more passion, more risk. Even if you fail, you’ve still taken a risk.” After my story, I was grilled by a Yankees fan during the Q and A who cut me no slack for my love of the Royals.
I then was escorted across the parking lot to the elementary school where I met Betsy the secretary. Two years ago today, her father passed away. My first game of catch was a game of therapy catch. Over the counter, we tossed the ball and talked of the healing power of play until it was time for me to head to Mrs. Massey’s room.
In Mrs. Massey’s room, I read my picture books Superheroes are for Real and They Call Me SuperBo and met Andy, the school’s therapy dog. As I read, Andy positioned himself on the tile floor on the opposite side of the room and didn’t move a muscle. After reading the books, I still had a few minutes remaining when I spotted a tennis ball. I started tossing the ball to the students and Andy was immediately interested. Eyes and ears on full alert, Andy sat by my feet and not-so-patiently waited for his chance to get the ball. He zoomed across the tile and picked up the ball, then returned to my side and dropped the slobbery wet mess into my hands. I dried the ball off as best as I could on the back of my jeans before throwing it back to the students, who threw it to Andy again and again.
“That’s the fastest we’ve ever seen Andy move,” Mrs. Massey said.
Back across the parking lot to the high school, I spoke to the journalism class. Gracie gifted me with cookies and Mrs. Spradling gave me a Dr Pepper to hold me over until lunchtime. It was during this storytelling I gave my first homework assignment to Noah — watch the Field of Dreams.
At lunch, I sat with Almost Dr. Wapp and ate Yogi’s Pizza. Mr. Stratton told me about the school’s award-winning Future Farmers of America program.
“Almost 40% of the school is involved in FFA.”
At the National FFA Convention, the American FFA Degree is awarded. Less than 1% of FFA members earn the certificate, making it one of the highest honors. Last year, 6 students from Conway won the award. I also saw the 1949 Tractor students are restoring to raise money for the FFA program.
A quick walk through the beautiful gym, then more stories to English III students, followed by the 3rd grade class and the 4th grade class before finishing the day with the final round in English III. I apologized to Mrs. Spradling who heard me tell the same stories four different times while diligently serving as a technology guru during the presentations.
When the final bell rang and Don’t Worry, Be Happy played, it was time for baseball and the Conway Fall Classic. Conway High School doesn’t have a football program. Instead, they have a brief fall baseball season. My kind of school. Tyler, the principal for the junior high, met me at the field for catch. A lifelong Conway Bear, the Cardinals fan and Jimmy Edmonds fan has been in administration for 5 years. As we tossed the ball, the Morrisonville (MCE) team warmed-up with infield and outfield drills. I played a version of pepper just with catch while the Conway team waited for their turn on the field. When the Conway team took the field for their warm-ups, I started to leave, until I overheard the starting pitcher say he was waiting for someone to catch him in the bullpen.
“Just 20 pitches is all I need.”
His first fastball was in the dirt and I bailed. His next 9 fastballs, 5 curveballs, and 5 change-ups were perfect.
Again, I started to leave, until Almost Dr Wapp and the team extended an invitation for a first pitch.
Without much ceremony, I walked straight to the mound, kicked the rubber a couple times, wound up, and threw the ball. It was probably a little outside, but at least I didn’t bounce it.
I can only hope the rains stay away this weekend and my stories and first pitch inspire the team toward victory.