I was petrified of the baseball diamond.
At that time baseball was the most popular game in my school and I had let down every team I had played on. Playing was compulsory, and everybody had to belong to some team. Not once had I swung the bat until the ball had gone over my shoulder, and the collective “ooh no” of disappointment that followed my attempts even featured in my nightmares.
It was the same with basketball. The only time I got a ball through the hoop was when I sneaked into the empty court, accidentally discovered my sweet spot, and shot a few baskets. I felt great that day.
I was okay at throwball because, though I was bad at catching, I was strong and threw well.
I spent Sports Days on the bleachers for years as I couldn’t sprint, jump, turn somersaults or even be a cheerleader as I was too shy to prance around in front of spectators.
Then, when I was in the 9th grade, Ms. Jeanne Roby joined as High School Games Teacher. Under her supervision, every girl had to try out for every event. It wasn’t as mortifying as I thought it would be because she sent the entire lot that didn’t make the cut to try out for another event, always with a cheerful smile. We had to chant “I can, I must, I shall, I will” while warming up for each event.
Only the 9th and 10th graders were allowed to take part in Throws: javelin, discus and shot putt. One by one, we threw each of them, all for the first time, all nervous. To my utter surprise, Ms. Roby picked me for both javelin and discus throw. Me! What? Couldn’t be!
My practice sessions started the very next morning in preparation for Sports Day. At times I was scared stiff at the thought of performing in front of hundreds of people; other times I worried about letting Ms. Roby and my House down.
Finally, Sports Day dawned. I won the gold for both javelin and discus throw. I did it again one year later in the 10th grade. That year Ms. Roby decided that our school should compete in the State Olympics, and a contingent was put together. She arranged for a coach, Ms. Shedrach, to train me. I had two practice sessions a day, before and after school. It all paid off. I won the gold for javelin throw, becoming the State Junior champion for the year! I was finally acknowledged as an ‘athlete’, with applause instead of “oh, no”! And I continued to derive confidence from this one little victory for many years.
I owe it all to Ms. Roby, the teacher who gave every child a chance. I ran into her a couple of decades later and had the pleasure of introducing her to my children. She beamed the same cheerful smile at them, and I felt a surge of gratitude and affection for this wonderfully positive woman whom I had the good fortune to know. I was able to tell her how much her encouragement had meant to me at the time.
It’s teachers like Ms. Roby who make a school a great place to grow up in. It’s teachers like her who make kids want to do their best. It’s teachers like her who give children confidence to try new things.
Thank you, Ma’am!
(5th Sept is Teachers’ Day.)