RON SCHALOW: 5-Foot-2, Eyes Of Blue

Forty-five falls ago, I played JV football for Minot High School. Played might be a strong word. Mostly I stood and watched.

For history buffs, it was about this time that dark skinned Barack Hussein Obama started planning the formation of ISIS, the confiscation of guns in America and global warming, from his base camp in Kenya, and Donald Milhous Trump was denying apartment rentals to dark skinned people.


I think it was JV, anyway, since I don’t recall MHS having a sophomore team. It didn’t really matter because I was 5-foot-2 inches tall, the same height as Bilbo Baggins’ royal dwarf pal,Thorin II Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King under the Mountain. I kept that to myself.

And 92 pounds. Buy two large bags of No. 50 Red River Valley spuds. Remove eight. The coach just shook his head and sighed when I stood on the scale. Depression hadn’t been invented, yet. Then, he scrounged around for pads that might fit. But it was his conundrum, not mine. There was no official document, but it was understood that a player wouldn’t be cut. He just had to survive.

The Fargo Forum once referred to me as diminutive, the word of year in 1970. I did something baseball related at Jack Williams Stadium, which warranted mention.

I played football in the eighth and ninth grades, too, at Jim Hill Junior High, so it wasn’t that I was totally unaware of my shortcomings. I didn’t feel that small, as I’m sure is the mindset of those crazy looking Chihuahua dogs, but I was also slow, although not in jeopardy of being carried off by a medium sized raptor.

Small people can play football, but they need to have some combination of speed or quickness. I was perfectly willing to get pancaked trying to tackle big-thighs Lars, but first I needed to get there, before he passed me by. He would swerve back towards me on occasion. Pure evil.

And I might have caught more passes if those fancy football catching gloves had been invented, and the ball wasn’t frozen solid most of the season. We refused to deflate.

We had “the hill” at the edge of the junior high practice field, a precipitous dirt path  —  you couldn’t see the bottom — which thinned out the herd pretty fast. Run to the bottom and run back up …full pads. Vomit on your own time.

“The hill” was my only talent because you didn’t need to be fast … it was too steep, but I was carrying no extra pounds and I was in shape. Now, I’m just a shape. Running up a hill doesn’t translate into talent on the football field, however.

The practice field for the varsity and JV was at an elementary school. No hill, but there was a quarter-mile asphalt track. It ran around the rock hard dirt, and some brave short brown grass, practice area. You had to be able to run a mile, in full pads, in less than seven minutes. Herd thinning. That was the rule, but I know that some bigger guys who had problems with the mile were granted some sort of immunity. Fine by me. Not my department. Two a days in the 90-degree August sun disappeared some more teens. Water was for after. The health benefits hadn’t been discovered, yet.

Speaking of concussions. I could take a beating. One of the practice drills randomly pitted two boys against the other, as did the rest of each practice. The two would get on their backs, pointed at the football the coach had placed on the ground between them, and he would blow the whistle. Flip over and dive for the ball. Simple. But because both players were starting from a low angle, it was inevitable that heads would violently collide. I asked no quarter and was given none. One of the collisions broke my unbreakable glasses right down the middle. It made sense at the time.

The helmets at the time were a big advancement from the previous century but were mostly ornamental, like salad bowls. They would have been perfect for collecting pine cones. Linebackers and defensive backs, used to wear pads on the back of their hands because they could fit their mitts through the space above the face mask, or coach handles. None of this sissy jousting with receivers at the scrimmage line. Just smack the kid in the nose with a vicious right. And these were my friends. If I ever got into a real game, I was targeted like a crippled wildebeast because the hit would be irresistible. They may have drawn straws.

Being able to take a beating isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, though. I never wanted to be part of pep talk. Well, if Schalow can take it… blah, blah, blah. Hellooo, I’m right here. Let’s smack him around with an aluminum bat and see if that will keep him down. I wasn’t getting back up, repeatedly, for anyone’s amusement.

Anyway, after the sophomore massacre had ended, the head coach (the biggest of deals to me) personally came to me and suggested I call it quits on my football career, which I took as the greatest respect. Variations of the same thing happened with my futile attempts at basketball and baseball, too.

As an expert bench-warmer, I can say that basketball was the most pleasant. You get to sit down and the games were indoors. In baseball, it can get awful cold in the springtime of North Dakota, and depending on the configuration of the dugout, you might get to sit, but maybe not. Riding the bench in football means standing in cold mud, while it rains in temps just above freezing. No sitting. I think it is, or was, a law.

I grew the day after graduating. Six feet and skinny.

Do I have my degenerative brain disease because of football? Who knows?

Some jerk stole one of the integral parts of the monkey bar set at the school playground, which I could navigate in my sleep … a bar (there was a cartoonish delay, as I flailed with my left hand to find metal, and my brain realizing that I was screwed), and I face planted from 6 feet into the dirt, that was surely hardened for my comfort. Knocked out.

And due to the heat, the boredom or as a way to escape my misery, my body fainted, and my face met wood floor, after my feet left the first riser during some singing, I think, concert. Unconscious.

Then in a pickup football game, a former MHS varsity quarterback threw me a long pass, leading me perfectly, so that when I turned around after actually catching the football, there was one of those brick church signs one inch from my face. Out. Pure evil.

Did one of those events cause me permanent damage? I don’t know, and for all of the other dangerous things I did in my yoot, that should have killed me, but didn’t, I’m satisfied with my longevity.

It just seems odd that 45 years ago, when we would throw giant darts at each other, and see how far we could ride our bikes down the steepest hill in town (what’s a helmet?), without applying the brakes, that the minimum grade for playing football was the eighth. I swear my swim teacher was trying to drown me in the seventh grade, but I couldn’t play football.

Now, this century, after we figured out how a few changes might lengthen the lifespan of your average human, there are really young kids suiting up for tackle football. Is the equipment that much better? Did we learn something new?

I think fourth-graders can play in the Fargo league. I haven’t watched any of those games since my nephew suffered through a season with a moron for a coach. He thought that kids could pick up the option offense in a few weeks, or ever. Mandarin Chinese is easier. College players have trouble with it.

Of course, the ball was constantly on the ground, and live, so there would be a big pile of kids every play, some huskier than others. My nephew played tailback, so he was supposed to corral a ball tossed in his general direction every play, then get creamed. It wasn’t teaching football, but satisfying the ego of a coach, who was evidently deaf, if he couldn’t hear me screaming at him.

I watched high school, college and pro football this past fall, and something has changed. Injuries appear to be happening at greater rate. I’ve never had a torn meniscus, a blown AC, or given a concussion test, and I thought the mangling was pretty comprehensive.

Pro players are dropping like flies. Somebody is always down, and it’s usually serious. Carson Wentz recently played a game without the services of a running back, a receiver, and several linemen … at least. The Vikings are in shambles, and the Bison have lost two stars. Many will have permanent health problems, including those of the brain. Maybe it’s my imagination, but something is different. Isn’t it?

I don’t think we were even allowed to have a meniscus.

One thought on “RON SCHALOW: 5-Foot-2, Eyes Of Blue”

  • susan gorr December 1, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Excellent imagery! I’m sorry you had to go through all that beating………..


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