One of my former and favorite student-athletes from the good ole Jone-buh days wrote to me today on Facebook and asked me to tell the story about a paddling incident that took place a few years ago. I thought that I knew which of my many stories that he was talking about. So, I thought that I would share it with others as well.
Eric, here’s the story…here’s the setting. But, because of social media’s pervasive power, I will change some of the names.
The year is 1981-82, coming right off Herschel Walker’s stupendous collegiate football performance during his freshman year. I was 27 years old. The high school was a large high school with only grades 10 through 12. The place is Sandersville, Georgia, the kaolin capital of the world, fifteen minutes up the road from Wrightsville, Georgia, Herschel’s hometown. One of Herschel’s assistant coaches at Johnson County High was now coaching at “WACO” (as the kids called “Washington County High School”). Coach Usher. When the WACO kids went to Unicoi State Park up in North Georgia for a field trip, I asked the bus driver to drop by McWhorter Hall (where all of the UGA athletes stayed on campus at the time). I got off the bus and went to the dorm room of Herschel Walker and Barry Swain (fullback from Swainsboro, just down the road of Sandersville, the home of Elijah Poole who later became Elijah Mohammed of Detroit, Michigan). I could tell that I had awakened Herschel who was taking a nap after practice, supper, and mandatory study hall. (The year before when I was a Graduate Assistant at UGA, I also earned some extra dough during the evenings by tutoring the athletes…even tutored Dominique Wilkins.)
Though he was having an Earth-shattering freshman season and was taking the entire country by storm, Herschel (and I think Barry too) consented to head out to the parking lot to get on the bus to say “hello” to his neighbors from WACO (where, Eric, your coach, Coach Rick Tomberlin, also had some great teams and won a State Championship or two with the likes of NFL star linebackers Takeo Spikes and Randall Godfrey). The students were thrilled. That’s all they could talk about the next day. “Herschel Walker came out to our bus!” I felt like that I had pulled off a coup d’etat. Ha!
A 1965 school paddling when schools were “barbaric”…you know, when students didn’t curse out and attack teachers and kill each other. Real barbaric, right? Ha!
Now I write the above to set the stage…to give you the setting and milieu of this football-crazed town. I had actually suspended the best player on the football team the first week of school. He had broken into line in the lunchroom and then bowed up to the two faculty members who were correcting him. When I went out to the 6th Period P. E. class (which was really football practice and was a violation of State Standards), I asked the 6’ 8” and 235 pound student-athlete to return to the office with me. When he gets into the office, he bowed up to me and refused to answer when I asked for his mother’s name and number. I just reached for my pink suspension form and said, “I’ll just let you go home and stay with your mother for a few days.” Wow! This caused a furor…not so much from the students and teachers (no problem here) but from my upper-level administrators. My principal called me into the office the next day with the student-athlete’s mother. He asked right in front of her: “What are we going to do about Michael?” I replied: “We’re going to treat him just like we treat every other student in thi school. He’s going to be suspended.” I refused to back off the suspension. The principal and the superintendent visited me that day or the next day in the afternoon at my trailer. (Yes, there were hardly any apartments in town and the Assistant Superintendent hauled up one of his trailers from, I believe, East Dublin in Laurens County.) Again, in good ole Trotter style, I refused to back off of the suspension.
Florida State University had three coaches at the first game to scout this football phenom but he didn’t play. I was so glad that we edged Dublin High School in that first game of the season by a score of 6 to 0. I remember it well. Danny Ford who was coaching Clemson University came to the school personally to recruit this big kid. Clemson went on to beat UGA 6 to 0 that year (Herschel’s only regular season loss in three years at UGA) and to win the National Championship. I never had another ounce of trouble from this kid. Never. He was very polite for the rest of the year. And the students knew that if I would suspend this kid and he couldn’t play in the first game of the year in this football-crazed town, then I must be “crazy.” It’s always good for the students to think that you are “crazy.” When the students think that you are “crazy,” then they won’t try you. You can keep them in line and the teachers can teach. But, you can’t be a hard ass. You have to have fun with the kids. They not only have to respect you, but they have to like you as well.
My first day of school at WACO, I notice some kid in my office walking around like he owned the place. I asked him, “Who are you?” He replied as if he were shocked that I didn’t know who he was, “Why, I am Bobby Joe Jackson!” He looked at me…like he was thinking, “Surely this man knows who I am!” Well, apparently Bobby Joe used to help the previous Assistant Principal “run the school.” Ha! He hung around the office and ran errands, etc. Supposedly, he tested out as “Special Education” but he word was that he was failing the different exams on purpose so that he could be in the Special Education classes and have more of a free reign at the school. But, about the time that I was becoming acquainted with Bobby Joe, in walked the principal. The principal was still mad at Bobby Joe for apparently sending everyone on a wild goose chase the last week of school the previous spring. It was over lost money from the office, and the principal had concluded that Bobby Joe had taken the money himself.
The principal asked: “Bobby Joe, why are you here? You’re suspended for two weeks for taking the money last year! Now go on home and come back after two weeks.” This might not be verbatim the words, but this was essentially what he said. Bobby Joe Jackson did indeed come back to school, and he continued to get into mischief (not major stuff) which required that he receive a “tune-up” (what we called a paddling back then). I like to play with the students’ heads a little. So, when he took his paddling like a man, I used to tell him, “Man, Bobby Joe, you can take a paddling better than any student in this school. I am amazed.” You could just see his head swell with pride. I would tell him this just about every time he received his paddling – and they were quite regular. Ha!
One day, Bobby Joe was in the office for one of his “tune-ups,” and he said (I remember it well), “Mr. Trotter, for you to be effective, you’re gonna have to hit harder.” I remember this so well. First of all, I was a whimsically offended that Bobby Joe was implying that I was not “effective” because I was not hitting hard enough. Ha! Actually, I was in charge of all of the discipline, and you could hear a pin drop in the halls. I was running a taut ship. The lack of support for student discipline was no issue. The teachers knew that all they had to say is “I am about to send you to Mr. Trotter’s office,” and the kids would straighten up immediately. But, Bobby Joe was saying that I just wasn’t hitting hard enough! Ha!
About the time that I was being lectured to by one of the most mischievous students at WACO, in walked the principal into my office. I stated, “Mr. Wilson [another made-up name], Bobby Joe says that for me to be more effective that I need to hit harder.” Mr. Wilson, who was still mad at Bobby Joe for apparently stealing money from the office the previous spring, asked, “Bobby Joe, you want me to paddle you?” Bobby Joe didn’t hesitate in replying, “That would be fine.” Mr. Wilson grabbed my paddle and Bobby Joe put his hands up against the wall facing a large poster of Dusty Rhodes (a Stanback advertisement wherein Dusty says, “I can tell you about pain!”). Mr. Wilson rared back and swung that paddle so hard up against Bobby Joe’s back side that I was actually quite nervous. He did it, I think, three times. I had never seen someone give such a powerful paddling, and I had seen my share through the years. (I had learned from my father who was a great school man and disciplinarian that it should really be wrist action, not should action.)
When Mr. Wilson finished the “tune-up” on Bobby Joe, he asked: “How was that, Bobby Joe? Was that better?” Bobby Joe was trying to walk to the door, with his butt cheeks tight, his knees stiff, and his steps small and shuffling. He replied, “Much better, sir, much better.”
I liked Bobby Joe Jackson. He was lots of fun. He had a great personality. We often talked in the halls. I can only remember one other incident dealing with him concerning discipline. I remember one of the school bus drivers coming to my office, and he was super frustrated and wanted me to suspend Bobby Joe from his bus. Bobby Joe had apparently cursed out this school bus driver before he got on the bus way up in Warthen, in the north part of Washington County. I called Bobby Joe to the office, and, if I recall correctly, he readily admitted cursing out his uncle. Yes, the bus driver was his own uncle!
The next year, I moved to Jonesboro, Georgia, and “Jone-buh” became even more interesting. Eric, I remember you in summer football practice of 1982 when you were going into the 7th Grade, with tears in your eyes, telling your father that you didn’t want to play football (and I don’t know if I blamed you at the time…the heat was rather sweltering!). But, Russ Jenson, would not let you quit. You went to be selected First Team All State at Jonesboro High School and earned a football scholarship to Purdue University. Remind your sons that sometimes fathers know best! This, I think, is the story about which you were asking, right? Bobby Joe Jackson’s “Much Better” story. © JRAT, June 21, 2013.