The "West Point" Kid

& Those Lazy, Crazy, Hazing Days of High School

James W. Petty drawing 1963


I’m sure I was the shyest guy in my class, and terribly uncertain about myself. Education wasn’t yet my focus, much to the dismay of parents and teachers alike. Why did a student with such potential not apply himself?

They’d forgotten that most of them were just like me; they didn’t really grow up until college, or later. As adults, they tended to see us kids as adult extensions of themselves.

The scholars excelled and filled their teachers with the warm fuzzies of achievement. The handsome jocks and the lovely debutants swirled out into a pre-hormonal setting that the adults understood only too well, and to which most kids were oblivious. All others were the audience, an absolute necessity in any society, without whom there are no scholars, jocks, or debutants.

I was a member of the audience. Education was something I was supposed to do for a thousand good and important reasons that my father rehearsed day after day. But school was a battleground for me; I either had to experience victory somehow, or remain a wallflower, sitting out on the edge of my small teenage society.

Like Napoleon Dynamite, I inventoried my skills. I played the clarinet almost as well as Benny Goodman, I thought. I could draw, and I could draw really well. But music and drawing didn’t rate very high with the local educational hierarchy or social leaders.
Clarinet graphic
I was particularly good at figure drawing, as a number of kids found out by breaking into my locker. But that still didn’t cut it. I went out of my way to learn calligraphy, beautiful handwriting. That brought me lots of attention, but in my opinion it didn’t raise my social position a notch.

I was still a member of the audience.

Now before we go any farther, let me say that there is nothing wrong with the audience. It is filled with wonderful people; friendly, smart, kind people; people who within a few years would emerge into adulthood like larvae into butterflies.

I myself was like a large larva, struggling with the prepubescent need to try my wings before they had formed. I was physically big. Not that big, but big enough. And I saw my size as a springboard into, at least, the backwaters of the Promised Land.

In my junior year I climbed up onto that platform, leaped into the water, and started to swim.

Football represented my first opportunity to fit in to what I saw as social completeness. If I couldn’t be a jock, I could be around them; maybe something would rub off.

I was slow and awkward. I had legs like a bull, but like most bulls, I was content to graze far off in a corner somewhere. But BYH was a small school, and the coaches worked hard to find some talent in me. They finally decided to plant me on the offensive line, where I would be an obstacle that opposing players would have to run around to get to our quarterback.

At worst, I could create a warm spot on the bench, and in those days preceding sideline heaters, I suppose a warm spot on a cold day could be a valuable asset.

As it turned out, football opened whole new vistas for me. Football was more fun than I could have imagined.
1965-1966 BYH Varsity Football Team
1965-1966 BYH Varsity Football Team

Yes, there were wind sprints, an evil punishment designed to glorify the jocks on the team. The fast ones were the “examples” for the rest of us. They would win the run, and were told to “hit the showers” while the rest of us continued to run our hearts out.

We also had to run laps up and down the stairs at the stadium. I can’t even describe that experience, except to say that when I attend the college football games today, it seems incomprehensible that I ever “ran” up those things.

What made football fun for me was that every day I got to beat up the hot shots on the team -- and they slapped me on the back for doing it!

Fall turned into winter, and football went away. Wrestling became my drug of choice -- no steroids in our locker room, but back then who knew what steroids were?

Wrestling was special for me. Again, size was important. I started out in the 165-pound class as a junior, second string behind a guy who ended up taking State. I was practice fodder, but that was alright; I was in training. Senior year was going to be my year.

I worked hard on my position. I became expert in a move called the “West Point”. Each match consisted of three rounds. If you made it to the second round, the players set up, one wrestler on hands and knees, while the other knelt beside him on one knee, with an arm around the other's waist, holding the other's left elbow with the left hand. When the ref slapped the mat to start the round, both wrestlers exploded from their stances to jockey for position and gain points.

Westling the
Both wrestlers exploded from their stances

I learned to, at that key moment, simultaneously grab the right elbow of the guy on his knees, and grab my right wrist with my left hand. Then, no matter what my opponent was trying to do, I jumped on top of him. My powerful arms and hands created a vice that literally squeezed the air out of his lungs. The more he struggled to get away, the more he struggled to breathe. I pinned six opponents that year on the B team, and four of them had to be carried from the mat. I had visions of glory in the coming year.

That summer, the state AAU sports powers that be, decided to disallow the “West Point” as a legal wrestling hold. To this day I believe it was because of me. The whole State wrestling program changed because of one kid on the B squad of a small school -- suuure. But it's fun to think so.

In my senior year I made it through tryouts. Another powerful guy, who ended up taking State, moved into my weight class, so I had to gear up and take matters into my own hands. I gained ten pounds and moved up into the 180-pound weight bracket, where I was unopposed on the first team.

Life was beautiful, I thought. But now I had to wrestle other guys on other first teams, and without my favorite wrestling hold. The problem was -- that was the only hold I knew!

I spent the entire season scrambling and running. An opponent in my bracket at a school across town, a Greek god, eventually took first in State. I never made it to the second round with him.

With spring came baseball, tennis, and track and field. I could hit but I couldn’t run, so baseball was out. I wasn’t quick and agile, as my wrestling opponents could attest to, so tennis was out.

Relatively speaking, track and field was Heaven. We still did evil wind sprints and ran the stairs, but once we were near the track, half of us on the team could lay out in the sun on cool grass, waiting our turns to participate, as long as the coach wasn't standing right in front of us.

I couldn’t run, and I couldn’t jump, but I was big, and could heave a shot-put. So I spent my days pumping iron, heaving small cannon balls, and developing a California beach tan.

On our track and field team, glory could come to underachievers in unusual ways, and I became perhaps the all-time best example of that. Here's how it happened:

Springville High School boasted a great discus thrower. We met on their field, and when the officials called for our discus specialist, we didn’t even know what a discus was.

But if we didn’t enter someone in the competition, Springville’s man would win unopposed. So I raised my hand. Why not? Coach Jed Gibson gave me a few brief instructions, and I went out and threw the little wooden and metal plate with my best shot-put form.

My opponent easily heaved his throws twice as far as mine; he spun gracefully and threw with all his might -- and all three times his discus landed out of bounds. I won! And someone wrote the story up in the local newspaper! Glory!

But the track and field season finally came to an end.

And that meant "initiation week" had arrived.

The jocks of the Lettermen Club looked over the new initiates with relish, rubbing their hands in anticipation. We had to wear gunny-sack underwear for a week. Mom made the nicest set she could, and soaked them in fabric softener for days.

Each greenie athlete was assigned to be a grunt for a standing Letterman. We ran for them, pampered them, and groveled for them. We did “duck walks” all over the school for them. I gave my “first kiss” to the sweetheart of the lead quarterback, right in front of him, and then he chased me around the building while his friends howled with glee.

At the end of the week, the grunts all gathered for the dreaded final initiation in the school gym. Dressed in shorts and sneakers, we were armed with boxing gloves in a big circle for a last-man-standing event.

Last Man Standing Letterman Inititiation 1965
The last-man-standing event begins.

Then they dumped raw eggs down our throats, and applied alum and wintergreen to our bodies so our skin would burn as we exercised.

We sweated and burned through the evening, climbing ropes, jumping off platforms, wrestling, and suffering all manner of torture.

Finally, when our will to survive had almost expired, it was over. We were welcomed into the club as fellow Lettermen. We could hold our heads high, and strut around the school like peacocks with our bright colored jackets.

But I was still a member of the audience. I didn’t care; I had achieved my social goals. I wasn’t a jock; but I wore the coat. I wasn’t a scholar, but I received honors. I wasn’t in the inner circle, but while the hot shots were away working for the summer, I dated their girlfriends.

Now, 40 years later, I’m still in the audience and loving it. I live vicariously through my own children. I glory in their successes, and thrill in their victories. I’ve learned the things that the adults knew when I was a boy, and now my kids are the ones who are mostly oblivious.

I still work hard to achieve, which now means providing a home for my loving wife and family. But periodically I think back through time and recall with a smile those lazy, crazy, hazing days of the mid-1960s at Brigham Young High School.

By James W. Petty, Class of 1966


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