Rubber Gym Floor
The most important room of my childhood was our school's gymnasium. One reason for this was appreciation. Up to first grade, we went to school on the bottom floor of our church. When they built the Christian Academy of Campbell County, it originally didn't have a gym. The back building, which contained the gym and three classrooms, wasn't built until the summer after our fourth grade year. One reason for this was that the school had begun to grow. Also, in the fifth grade, we acquired a new principal. Mr. Ray was in many ways still a young man. I remember he would play basketball with us, and every now and then, he could dunk. We were impressed.
Up until then, my friends and I had participated in county sports. We played in those junior minor leagues where the kids are just learning to dribble and pass, shooting on a lowered goal. Fifth grade was the cutoff for such leagues. The fifth grade was also the beginning of middle school sports, for a junior varsity team at least. One of the first things I heard about our new principal was that he planned to start an athletics program. Then, when I met him, I knew he would.
My mother taught at the Christian Academy. She would stay after school for an hour or two each day. There was a group of children whose parents couldn't get off work at three to pick them up. The school set up an After-School-Care program. The children in these programs were always the same. They ranged from anywhere between kindergarten to the eighth grade. While Mom was doing her lesson plans, I would mix in with this group. We often played outside. There was a time allotted for them to do their homework that I often skipped.
Gym floors were beginning to be made out of rubber. Our new principal, as well as the benefactors, found this desirable. The back building was closed for a few days. I would sneak back there, though, and see the progress. The crew took every precaution to fill the floor level. They had a thing with a hose that poured thick mixture. Our mascot was the warrior, with the breastplate of righteousness and shield of truth, and this was cause for our colors to be purple and gold. After the mixture had settled, they painted the floor a majestic yellow and filled the baselines in with purple. I had never seen a more elaborate floor. When you walked in the door, it smacked your face.
The first day of school, after the gym was open, the whole place was abuzz. When they let us in for recess, I remember feeling a camaraderie of freedom. We probably resembled a flock of wild birds being turned loose. Everyone was running and bouncing balls, doing cartwheels in the new space. Everyday after school, I could be found in the gym shooting basketball. In sixth grade, Coach Tony pulled me aside during practice. Our hot shot, Andrew Nickel, had graduated the year before. It was the first practice of the year, and Tony told me his team needed a new leader. "I need you to step up, Michael," he said. "You're the one I'm counting on." I still remember the exact spot where I was standing. Sometimes, when I'm down with the world, I go there and stand.
My dad has a passion for the game of basketball. He was the coach of Powell Valley High School before I was born. He taught health and P.E. I grew up hearing stories of his players, how this one could shoot free throws, how that one could pass. Dad always said Rodney Adkins—who later became a very successful country music singer—was "the kid on the bus making a racket." When I asked how good of a player he was, Dad would say, "He found his right occupation in singing."
Our eighth grade team went twenty-four and four. We finished second in the National Association of Christian Athletes tournament, losing to a team from Bell Shoals, Florida, by a last second shot. They hung a banner in the gym with all of our names on it. It still hangs there today. Sometimes, when I go to the gym with Dad and my kid sister, I'll catch myself looking up. It feels like a whole different world back then, one which I can hardly remember, and in many ways a better one.
I ran sprints in that gym. I made friends in that gym. I sweated, bled, loved, and lost in that gym. I still hold to that gym. I see my name on that wall and know I have been there. I stand in that spot and know I have stood there. I vaguely remember what I felt back then, and it gives me hope to push for the future. Someday I may remember this spot where I sit now. I may long to be back in this seat. But I will be here now, and hope that is enough.