I grew up in Vista, Calif. It was a lovely corner of the universe in which to be a child. It was a time in which the most high-tech sports equipment was a pair of Keds tennis shoes. In high school, we rotated through sports as we rotated through the seasons. In spring, we swam. In fall, we played football. Since we were girls, we played flag football, a much less lethal form of the sport.
In the fall of 1971, Mrs. Picchitino ("Mrs. Pitch") was our fearless leader, aka PE teacher. Fortunately for me, she graded us on a girl's effort, not on her athletic prowess. This made it possible for me to get an "A" in her class because I exerted more effort per square inch than anyone else in the class.
She also did something else that was unusual: She let us mill around and form our own teams, not be handpicked by captains.
That year, we did another thing that was unusual: We formed a team of honor-roll members, or "Brainiacs," as we were soon known. The athletically gifted girls, the "Jockettes," formed a team as well, and the rest of the girls divided into the other teams.
As the Brainiacs, we decided to do the rare and the unheard-of: We actually read the rulebook for girls' flag football.
We found out that we could hike the ball on "watermelon," "Baptist," or after a dead silence of however many seconds we thought would drive the other team crazy.
For one play, we hiked the ball on "peach" after we called a grocery list of fruits. On the next play, we inserted "peach" into the middle of a series of calls and caught the other team encroaching.
Since several of us were in the school choir, we sometimes sang the cadence to a syncopated jazz number and totally confused the other team. Hey, we were on pitch, and it was a cappella: Our choir teacher was proud of us!
By reading the rulebook, we found out that everyone on the team was eligible to touch and carry the football. So we surveyed moms, brothers, dads, assorted boyfriends, and any football fan we knew to find the most unusual plays they had ever seen. As a result, the Brainiacs' playbook listed "the Statue of Liberty," "the hook and ladder," and the triple reverse.
What I brought to the team was the ability to run the quarter mile in the fastest time in the class. I also knew that if I had a 10-yard lead on the class sprinters, I could beat the "greyhounds" at the 100-yard dash. Since we played across the width of the boys' football field, our goal lines were about 53 yards apart, which gave me an advantage.
Playing across the field instead of lengthwise, the girls flag football teams could play two games, side by side, on the same field. Since our games were held during the first lunch period, the sophomores came out, sat in the football stands, and watched our games while they enjoyed their lunches.
Being seniors, we were not thrilled that the sophomores were watching us. As a senior, I was also not particularly thrilled that Rick, from my Sunday School, was one of those watching. After all, I was not athletically gifted and therefore the danger that I was going to thoroughly embarrass myself was real and palpable.
However, each lunch when we played football, the sophomores watched and politely cheered.
Most of the time, the field was pretty chewed up by the cleats of the boys' football team. Sometimes it looked like a series of grass moguls, which made running a bit more hazardous than one might have wished. This added to our challenges.
During the season, the Brainiacs had played the Jockettes once and won by sheer innovation. But as we faced them again in the finals, the Jockettes were determined to prove their superiority. With such a rivalry, even the varsity boys' football team turned out to watch our game.
The third quarter ended with no score. Finally, time was running out in the fourth quarter, and the prospect of an 0-0 tie loomed large. What happened next was totally unexpected by everyone.
The Brainiacs were pinned on our own 9-yard line with 44 yards to go for a touchdown. For this play, I was the designated receiver, and I lined up to the far right of the quarterback.
Since the previous play had been a quadruple reverse, our opponents were expecting more razzle-dazzle. And so they were watching intently to locate the ball once it was hiked. What they didn't see was me getting the ball and streaking down the right sideline as quickly as I could go.
It's normal for the person with the ball to assume that he or she is being chased and to run as fast as possible to avoid being caught. I assumed I was being chased by every sprinter on the girls' track team - but I was not about to look around and lose valuable time to see if it was true.
I zipped across the field, a speedy procession of ... one.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted our PE teacher and her assistant. They were laughing!
I kept barreling toward the end zone. When I got there and spiked the ball, Mrs. Pitch yelled, "Touchdown! Kathy, you just earned your A!" The kids in the stands cheered and laughed.
It was at this point that I looked back upfield to see the Jockettes still searching for the ball. None of them knew I had it because my team had been running decoy plays in the backfield.
I called to them, "Looking for this?" and I pointed at the ball. They stood there in disbelief. I was the last person they thought would score. And I was the last person to score a touchdown that year in flag football.
The next Sunday Rick approached me after Sunday School to tell me that he had never enjoyed football so much ... and that he had no idea I was that fast.
Ah, the life of a football "star."