My high school hockey letterman jacket is still hanging up in my closet. I tried it on while I was home for Christmas, and it’s still too big. As a freshman, I ordered it large because I thought I would hit some sort of crazy growth spurt and become a larger man. I hit a small growth spurt, and grew to the extremely average height of 5’11”.
I figured that once I started lifting weights and drinking whey protein shakes, I would put on thirty pounds. So I started lifting weights and drinking whey protein shakes and I put on zero pounds. I just looked a little less skinny, which means that you could see two fewer ribs.
Last week I put on the jacket and laughed, because I still looked like a child in it. The thing wouldn’t fit the Hulk. It didn’t matter though, because in high school it was a status symbol, not a fashion statement. Its white sleeves and “Varsity” stitching screamed, I’ve made it. I’m one of these guys now.
“You’re gonna get so much play in those jackets!” (When I say play, I don’t mean using the jungle gym at the playground. …Unless that’s what people are calling it these days.) I still remember sitting in the locker room and listening to the seniors talk about the jackets.
“You guys are gonna have junior girls coming up to you and…” I’ll spare you details here, but the team captain made wearing the jacket sound pretty appealing. “OC, remember? Remember that girl who [did things she wasn’t ready for with you, probably to gain acceptance or get attention or cover up some hurt at the expense of her emotional health?] That was awesome!”
So we wore the jackets around. I had to unbutton it and wear a hooded sweatshirt under it just to make it not look idiotic. The first day I wore it, I expected some junior girls to try to make out with me in the hallways. Keyword: some. Fewer than three girls would be considered a failure. I was imagining myself fending off women, “No! NO! Not right now! You girl, LEAVE ME ALONE!” I would have to stuff the jacket in a locker until the very end of the day, when every female had left school grounds.
This did not happen. Maybe because this was real life and our team sucked and no one cared about hockey at our school.
When I started, the team had a storied tradition of sucking. The Lexington Minutemen hadn’t made it to the state tournament in twenty-two years. (To give some reference here, all we needed was to win half of our games. Or tie all of them.)
We were going to change that. Our team wouldn’t settle for failure, we’d shoot for mediocrity. Our goal was to complete the season with a .500 record and make it to the playoffs.
I started thinking of how we could boost excitement about our team. I thought about the film Remember the Titans. Denzel Washington has a line that I love: “In Greek mythology, the Titans were greater even than the gods. They ruled their universe with absolute power. That football field out there, that’s our universe. Let’s rule it like titans.”
That’s it. I could give the same speech: “During the Revolutionary War, the Minutemen were…well, they were really poorly trained. They were no match for the British Redcoats, but what they did have….what they were known for…. was being ready for battle in one minute…they were dressed so fast, and actually they ended up losing that battle on the Lexington Battle Green…but ah…let’s put our equipment on in one minute!
I looked at college football programs that were getting attention, and used them as my inspiration: The Florida State Seminole “chop,” the Florida Gator “chomp,” the Purdue Boilermakers… “boiling things in the stands.” All of these teams had some sort of action that got the crowd into it.
I made a list of the things that Minutemen had. Muskets, tricorn hats, gunpowder. Then I threw that list away and while making a powerpoint presentation thought, That’s it. The Lexington Power Point!
We would get the fans to point, in unison, at the other team. The players would feel so insecure and accused that they would cower, giving us an easy lane to the net. I was never able to garner enough support to implement the Power Point, and failing to do so has been my greatest regret.
We didn’t need the gimmicks though, because we had cheerleaders.
A bottle of Tommy Hilfiger cologne still rests on my dresser at home and reeks of high school. My cheerleader gave it to me. “Oh sweet!!! Bart dated a cheerleader?! What a complete stereotypical high school brojock!” I didn’t date her, but I was hers. (Seriously, I was assigned to her.)
The varsity hockey team was blessed with the JV cheerleaders. (The basketball team got the varsity cheerleaders, probably because it was safer to do flips and stuff on a court than on the ice.) Most of the JV cheerleaders had to cheer for multiple guys because there weren’t enough girls willing to freeze their butts off in an ice rink for two hours.
They sat in the bleachers and did muffled clapping and stomping routines. (The clapping was muffled on account of the mittens.) Let me tell you, nothing, and I mean nothing, gets you more pumped up to play a hard-hitting, fast-paced, aggressive game of hockey than hearing this: “Bart—Go—Go—Tocci—GO!”
Boom, clap-clap, boom, clap!
“GUYS! Listen! THEY WANT ME TO GO! WE NOW HOLD THE KEYS TO VICTORY. I WILL POWER POINT YOU IN THE DIRECTION!”
They were sweethearts and they always told us good job, even when we lost by double digits.
At the end of the year, we had a banquet where we saw pictures and videos from the handful of games that we won. After that, the athletic director would come up and lecture about how sports aren’t actually important, but having fun and being safe and being a huge pushover is important. We would give out awards, name next year’s captains, and then exchange gifts with our cheerleaders.
Guys would go up to the podium, take a gift from the coach, meet their cheerleader and give her flowers and take a photo with her. She would give them a Snickers bar or a decorated hockey puck.
When it was my turn, there was joking from my teammates because word had spread that this gal had a crush on me. I shook hands with my coach, took a gift, gave my cheerleader—whom I had never actually spoken with—flowers, and then she gave me a candy bar, a puck, and the bottle of Tommy Hilfiger cologne. And I never talked to her again.
And yes, of course I wore the cologne. It would be rude not to.
Bart Tocci (’11) lives in Boston where he writes essays, performs at open mics, and threatens to start taco restaurants. He’s been told that he looks like the kind of guy who stands up for what’s right. And who goes to the store before the party. Read more here: barttocci.wordpress.com