At World Series time, the fall of my 7th grade year (1970-71), the 8th grade challenged us to a baseball game. Some teacher said that we should have a vote on which boys should be on the team. I thought this a bit odd, but figured ok, I would get voted on, right? I had been selected to the Little League All Stars the previous summer. I was shocked that I got one vote. Five people came up to me later to tell me they voted for me. Hmmmm.
It had already been a different year. I had been attending the same Catholic school since 1st grade and knew nearly everyone and was friends with most but “friends” were hitting me, and stealing my stuff and money and wrecking my things. I was at a loss as to why. We wore school uniforms so it was not that. I was good at sports and, although I had always been a pretty good student, I was not a bookworm or considered a geek…Why?
There were two guys that seemed to be the leaders, one was from another town, (found out later that he had been kicked out of two other parochial schools and my school had accepted him in search of revenue) and the other one had been in the other classroom of the same grade for years. Both of these kids and many others had had early growth spurts, while I was stuck at about 5 feet and 90 pounds dripping wet. I had become the class victim. I was being bullied. One other thing entered in here. Discipline had been relaxed a lot that year. The former principal, a real disciplinarian, had been transferred and the new one was much more along the lines of “let them do their own thing”. This was the early 1970’s after all.
My mother knew something was wrong but I would not let on. Then one day I came home and the handle had been ripped off my book bag, something I could not hide. My mother and father were both incensed. Because my uncle was a missionary Priest, and my family knew all of the priests, my mother called the rectory to relate the problem. She also called the convent to talk to the Principal. She got little satisfaction from the Monsignor and none from the principal. A couple of days later I came down with pneumonia, the first in a long list of illnesses I had through the year. The two week absence gave fuel to the tormenters who decided I was chicken and took that as their cue to increase the torment when I returned. Any time the teacher left the room, I was hit, thrown down, thrown at, stuff taken, you name it. I used to get in trouble more than they did because the teacher, a naïve soul, would see me running after the thief and assume that I was causing the trouble. They threatened to put drugs into my food, or drink, threatened to beat me up pretty much every day.
Needless to say, through all of this I was nervous and scared to go to school. My nerves were on edge all the time. I had stomach trouble constantly, which contributed to the absences. There was one time when the group ganged up on me at recess, on a freezing cold day, knocked me down, took off my shoes and socks and threw them in the woods adjoining the parking lot. I had to go retrieve them, and the principal greeted me at the door questioning why I was late getting in from recess. I can see her yet standing there with a very mad look on her face. I was the one who got in trouble. Many of these were the same kids who had been my friends the prior years. The new kid had organized them against me, and one or two others. At 13 years old, I could not wrap my head around this. Why were my friends betraying me?
Later in the school year, I was lucky enough that my mother convinced the principal and Monsignor who ran the church, to put me in the other 7th grade classroom. It was better, not good. I gained a friend out of that, who helped me out of some jams with my antagonists. About the middle of May, I was beaten up pretty good one day and looked it when I got home. My father was able to speak to a friend who was a teacher himself and was the father of one of the teachers at my school, and he advised that my parents take me out of school for the rest of the year and transfer me to public school. So my parents abruptly took me out of school. I was shocked/relieved/happy/etc. My mother and I visited the principal and told her what was happening. I remember being incredibly scared going into school. Somehow my mother was able to convince her that I would study at home and take final exams at the convent. I got A’s on all of my tests, but the principal threatened to keep me back a grade due to the number of absences. (I had been out some 50 days that year.) My mother threatened to talk to the Monsignor and did. The principal relented and they passed me on to 8th grade, and I went to East Jr. High in the fall. I found out later that my uncle, the priest, had called the Monsignor from the Philippines to give him a rundown of what was going on.
I got to East Junior and eight days later the school burned down. We were off for a week but I went back and settled in, and things moved along swimmingly. There was control. The teachers did not leave the students unsupervised as was the case at the supposedly high discipline Parochial school. After I got the hang of Public school with its bigger population, I was less nervous, not scared to go to school and I had a great year in 8th grade, and every year beyond. I made friends with tons of kids including many members of the East Jr. Football team because I was a yearbook photographer. I tried out for the Baseball team and made it.
The best thing I remember from East Jr. that had to do with the 7th grade at the parochial school. One day when I was in 9th grade. The old parochial school only went to 8th grade so most of those kids went to public school. I was walking in the hall and one of my tormenters from the old school was coming toward me and picked a pen out of my pocket and knocked the books out of my hand. Instantly, one of my football friends, who was about 6 foot 3 and a linebacker on the team picked the tormentor up by his shirt and brought him to me. By then a couple of other football guys were there, and they asked what I wanted them to do to him. I thought the tormentor was going to need a new set of underwear. I looked at him being held there in terror and just said “You’ve done enough”. They made him pick up my books, and give back the pen. I never had another problem.
I rarely think of that 7th Grade year. I have truly blocked it. When Mel asked me to write this I had to go back to memories that had not come up in years. The good ones, which were very few, for 7th grade like Bill Maher, and going to East Jr. and the Footballers catching the guy, were there, luckily. The bad ones were too.
So what does this all mean? I got through this because of the love and support of my parents, the strength they gave me, and that they were able to get good advice, act on that advice, plus the fact that I had an easy escape route — go to public school, make new friends, and a new start. I have made a good career, have a fine family, I’m very fortunate.
Many kids don’t have any of these things going for them. The parents may not know about the problem, may ignore the problem, or worse not care about the problem. The teachers may not do anything. Some kids are so badly affected they take matters to the extreme. Phoebe Prince, of South Hadley, MA killed herself because she was being Cyber-bullied. The Columbine shootings over a decade ago were retribution by the shooters against kids who were bullying them. Ever since my kids started school, I have worried about something like that happening to them and how I would react. Luckily nothing has yet. It is a different era, but bullying in all its forms still exist, and needs to be watched for and corrected immediately. It can destroy a person.