by Bruce Yasgur
Central High School (I graduated in 1961) prepared me for more of life’s opportunities than I can tell in any one column, but here’s a story about one such serendipitous experience.
In addition to viewing school as an idiot factory, I found myself a target of anti-Semitic rhetoric and bullying as a student at a diverse junior high school without a diversity plan. After a few fights, which I usually didn’t start, and visits to the principal’s office, where I was lectured about learning to live in a “Christian” country, I knew that school wasn’t for me.
Had I not transferred to Central in 9th grade, school would likely have remained for me an adolescent hell. Central gave me a new perspective. I came to appreciate, rather than abhor, both the academic and cultural elements of education. My story starts tangentially: aside from wanting to escape the tensions of life at Wagner Junior High in West Oak Lane, I went to Central largely to play sports.
I’d seen the movie “Wee Geordie” in which a young Scottish shepherd went from tossing rocks for fun to the Highland Games, and then to the Olympics to throw the hammer — not the kind one finds in a tool belt, but a 4-foot long, 16-pound ball of death consisting of an iron orb, a chain and a grip. Pretty cool!
But there was no hammer to throw in Oak Lane, especially at Wagner, which had no sports teams. Given my issues, especially since I wasn’t academically challenged, my counselor urged me to apply to Central for 9th grade. Two questions: Did they have freshman sports? If so, which ones? She made the call. Football?
Yes! Hammer throw? Close: shot-put — a hammer without a chain or grip. Seemed an OK compromise, so I gave up my pre-delinquent life for that of a scholar-athlete, and never looked back. At Central, I was a middling football player, but a decent shot-putter. So where’s the serendipity? Stay with me. BTW, do you know anyone who’s competed in the Highland Games?
Twenty years later, still fascinated by hammers and projectiles in general, I traveled to Tomintoul, the highest town in Scotland, where the Highland Games were held. While watching the athletes and spectators, I was approached by the “committee.” As I was “ a strappin’ lad,” and as they were short a competitor or two, they invited me to participate. Talk about a dream come true: I’d get to throw a rock or two and — drum roll — the hammer.
I traded my jeans for a kilt (a whole other story!) and was escorted midfield to meet the jocks – pros with massive muscles and equally massive facial scars — and to check out the projectiles we’d be heaving. I’d be competing in the rock and hammer throws. (NOT the caber, a rough-hewn 150-pound log that you hoist straight up and balance on the side of your head, scraping hair and flesh — OUCH! — as you run forward and heave it high and far enough to spin end over end before it crashes — AARRGH!!)
The shot-put-like rock toss went off well enough. The hammer, let’s just say, went off. After a couple of swings just like Wee Geordie and my new pals, I let go of the grip. The ball and chain flew in one direction, and I, suddenly recalling some laws I’d learned in physics class, took off with equal force in the opposite direction. As I landed arse-over-head, I was consoled by the fact that, defying tradition, I’d kept my BVDs on and that they were unsoiled. Was it the cheering, the sun or something else that caused my face to turn red?
At the pub, after the games, I learned how good single malt whiskey was and how, on that game day, my money was not. My thanks to Central High School, the movies and being in the right place at the right time for my 15 minutes of fame.
So, tell me, do you know any Central alumni who’ve competed in Scotland’s Highland Games?
* This article, written by Bruce J. Yasgur, JD, EdD, of Havertown, was reprinted, with permission, from the fall edition of the Central High School Alumni Journal. Yasgur, 70, who regrets not having a photo of himself participating in Scotland’s Highland Games, grew up first in West Oak Lane and later in East Oak Lane. He taught at several high schools, including Central, and at three colleges, including Temple University. His father’s first cousin was Max Yasgur, who gained worldwide publicity when he allowed his huge property in upstate New York to be used as the site of the legendary Woodstock rock music festival in 1969, attended by about 500,000 crazies, some of whom were almost swallowed up by the mud.