The sportscaster was no doubt complimentary when he said the athlete had completed his college education in four years. My thoughts did wander, even soared. I thought of my great-uncle, who dallied in the first grade five years because he liked to help the comely teacher wind the clock every Friday. And I thought of the boy from our town who got a baseball scholarship to the college of his choice, and then the college had to invent a degree for him. The college had never awarded this degree, and never did again, but the lad had batted a consistent .352 for four years.
The college wanted him to stay longer, but his family was growing, and he wanted to try the majors. I also thought of Muscles dePlugge, a star fullback at Midwest U. back in the 1920s when financial assistance to promising athletes was a new twist in cultural affairs, and colleges and universities were struggling with their doctoral consciences over the decency of mentioning money in the presence of Olympic talent. The story of Muscles (that was not his name, by the way) crossed the country overnight.
Muscles was a farm boy whose yearning for erudition exceeded the wheat crop's possibilities. His academic progress was desultory, but on one October Saturday against Capital City High he had gained all the yardage in a 72-2 victory for Pigtoe Classical. (Muscles on a foul-up had exuberantly run the wrong way on a slant off-tackle.) This game had been scouted by the Packers, and Muscles was recommended for a full scholarship at Midwest U.
This changed the boy's entire life. He was able to send a check home to the folks on the farm each week, and he ate well at the training table. Each afternoon he worked out in "the cage," or on the field with the squad, and he was a great joy to the coach. When the season opened, he became an instant sensation, and in the first game with Ramaround College he scored four TDs and intercepted seven times.
And then a terrible thing happened. Muscles dePlugge was posted as deficient in his grades. He had flunked chemistry. Consternation was rampant, and disbelief flourished. How could it be that the star fullback at Midwest U. would flunk chemistry? What had happened to bring on this catastrophe?
The dean immediately got in touch with Prof. Wiltforest Pritchard Molyneaux, head of the department of chemistry, and as the dean spoke with urgency, Professor Molyneaux hurried to his office. The dean brought up the subject directly. He said, "How in the world did you contrive to flunk dePlugge?"
Like a great many professors of those lesser days, Dr. Molyneaux was slow about many things, and was not expecting to be asked about his grading. He told the dean that dePlugge had been flunked because he was scholastically unequal to the subject of chemistry, and since the beginning of the semester had not appeared in class. In fact, Dr. Molyneaux added, he didn't even know what the guy looked like.
"I fear," said the dean, "that you are the unwitting victim of professional ignorance. Mr. dePlugge is not exactly a student. He is our scholarship investment in our football schedule. You have failed to pass him in chemistry, and have thus jeopardized our position of leadership in the arts and sciences. What will become of us scholastically if we fail to maintain our good reputation on the gridiron?"
In this way, Professor Molyneaux came to realize the enormity of his boo-boo, and he asked what he might do to restore dePlugge to academic standing and save the institute from shame. It was agreed that he would give a special examination to Fullback dePlugge, affording the gentleman an opportunity to redeem himself, and that this should be accomplished before next Saturday's game. "You must realize," the dean told Professor Molyneaux, "that Midwest U. cannot field any student who is deficient in his grades!"
Well, before next Saturday's game, it was announced that dePlugge would play, and that his grades were consistent with the school's strict requirement that all competing athletes maintain acceptable grades.
THUS it was. Things went along for some time before the dean chanced to meet Professor Molyneaux, and he thanked him for what he had done. Molyneaux said it was nothing, really; he had merely given dePlugge a special examination that, in fact, had only two questions. It had taken Mr. dePlugge just a short time and had caused him no inconvenience. "I rated each question at the value of 50 points," said Professor Molyneaux, "and I required 50 points for passing.
"Mr. dePlugge was most courteously obliging," said the professor. "My first question was, 'What color is blue vitriol?' Mr. dePlugge said 'red,' which is wrong. But my second question was, 'What does H20 stand for?' and Mr. dePlugge answered that he didn't know, which was correct. This gave him a passing mark."
We have no reason to believe that anything like that could happen in these enlightened days when all the early attitudes about a sound mind in a sound body have been adjusted to suit. My great-uncle was not altogether stupid. He liked to help that particular young lady wind the schoolroom clock, and it was the young lady, not the clock, that kept him in school. When the school board figured this out, they assigned a gentleman teacher to the class, and my great-uncle quit school to homestead a ranch in North Dakota.