My Story: Godís Hand in All
Junior High & High School
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Junior High School - 1966
Our little life in Wheaton was all we knew until we moved to another town northwest of Chicago called Arlington Heights in the summer of 1966 when I was twelve years old. For us kids it was death. Both Jim and I began junior high school at the same time, I in grade seven, he in grade six. Just at the time we were moving into adolescence we had to loose all of our friends that we had made in Wheaton. We were very lonely for a period of time. But several good things came out of it. I vowed that I would not steal again, knowing it was bad, and realizing that I had a new opportunity to change. Also, I had been one of the class clowns in school in Wheaton. I goofed around a lot and disobeyed the teacher just to get laughs and approval from the other kids in class. All of that changed when we moved, perhaps because of the pressure of new surroundings, perhaps because of the beginning of the voice of God getting through to my heart.
The first year in Arlington Heights I entered seventh grade at Thomas Junior High School. I excelled in sports. My dream was still very clear to be a professional baseball or football player. I was class president for part of the year. I hardly remember how I got elected, because, though I had great dreams, I had no clue how things really worked in the real world, and had no clue about how to be a president or how to get elected.
I slowly made new friends. Growing up in Wheaton and Arlington Heights, we never had the fashionable clothes that the important kids had. I was never in the best clicks, the best groups, or the ďinĒ crowd. I was often laughed at or ignored. I never felt very important, and never hung around with anyone important. I had some crushes on girls there, but was never brave enough to do anything about it, probably because I felt very inadequate and not good enough.
My brother Jim had a couple of friends who we hung around with a lot, Jerry Kohn and Shawn Diehl. Jerry was the kind of guy who liked to do daring things, and I guess we looked up to him for that. Shawn was a little guy we used to pick on. We called him Tick, because he bothered us a lot. Somehow we all coexisted in our little arena of life. It was with Jerry and Shawn that my brother and I stayed up all night for the first time. Everyone has to do that sometime in their life, right?! I trust Shawn has forgiven us for how we treated him!
During our junior high school years we were very interested in tropical fish and collecting coins. Jerry and Shawn were also interested in these things. Jim and I even began breeding fish and had many different kinds of fish tanks for it. And we went to coin shows and rode our bikes to coin stores to see what we could buy. In 1964 the U.S. government quit making dimes, quarters and half-dollars out of silver and began to make the new clad type coins. Coins lost their true value and began to merely represent the amount. Well, that didnít mean anything to us, but we did spend lots of time in the next few years getting rolls of dimes, quarters and half-dollars from the bank in search of the older silver coins. Coin stores were paying extra for silver coins, so we make a few bucks!
It was also during these years that Jim and I had our stingray bikes with banana seats and butterfly handlebars. We were cool, no doubt about it! We often rode to Des Plaines, a long ride for us, to the movie theater. There you could watch two movies for 25 cents. It was a great deal even back then.
High School - 1968
I went to high school in the fall of 1968. I was fourteen at the time, and spent the next four years there. The school was Arlington High School, the oldest and most respected high school for miles around. The school eventually closed down about 1979 towards the end of the baby boomers when the amount of kids in the area decreased.
I remember the school gym. What a huge thing it seemed to be after junior high school. And when you walked in the foyer after climbing the classic stone steps that led to the doors, you were greeted with display case after display case of trophies and photos of teams and captains and cheerleaders from years gone by. Very impressive!
Sports continued to be a very big thing in my life all through high school. I went out for football in August 1968. What a trial it was. Everything was new. I had no idea how to wear football shoulder pads, football pants with pads in them, or a football helmet. Because of my dadís lack of interest in sports, I had never been in organized sports where a kid normally learned these things. And I had no idea what the coaches expected of us. But I slowly found my way, and ended up playing for three seasons on the football team. I played split end on offense and safety on defense. I loved the game. But I was too small to be a starting player. The freshman class had two teams: A and B. The A team was best. I was assigned to the B team. I went to the practices faithfully and played some in the games. My glory moment was in the C game (if you can believe they even had a team lower than the B team!) when I caught a touchdown pass and an extra point pass and we won the game.
I also tried out for the baseball team my freshman year, but didnít make it. I was skilled in the sport. I was a very good outfielder. But because I had never had the opportunity to hit fastball pitching I had trouble hitting well in tryouts. Actually I was shocked that I didnít make the team. Getting cut during tryouts was a real blow to the dreams I had grown up with. I tried out again my sophomore year and made the team. I was thrilled about it. Because I couldnít hit well I didnít play much, but I loved being on the team. Basketball was another story Ė or no story at all. I was cut during tryouts my first year, and another of my dreams was shattered.
So I decided to try out for wrestling the winter of my second year, and made the team. It was all so new to me. Wrestling was a sport that I could do better in because so much about it depends on heart and hustle and work ethic rather than strength or years of experience. It was a sport that I excelled in. I wasnít great, but above average. I wrestled on the squad at 115 pounds that year.
Wrestling is a quirky kind of sport. Many of the guys loose lots of weight to wrestle at a lower weight class, either to beat out a kid on his school team, or to do better in competition against other schools. Generally the strength of the wrestlers was greater as the weight classes increased. Many of us constantly struggled to keep pounds off. This became a nightmare at times because we didnít only diet to loose fat, but risked our health to loose even more. And since a quick way to loose pounds was to quit drinking liquids, we would do that as well. Our mouths were constantly dry during wrestling season. How wonderful when the season was over and we could eat again!!! Photos of my brother and me during Thanksgiving in late November show us looking severely undernourished and sick! We could hardly eat anything during the greatest meal of the year! But the drive in us to excel and win at all costs pushed us forward.
Jack Cutlip was our coach. He was a man that we respected greatly. He had been a Methodist minister but had left that to become a school teacher. We prayed before each meet, which had a great influence on me. Also, preparing mentally for a wrestling match was a learning experience for me. I found that it helped to read a book to distract me from the anxieties and stress of worrying about the match. Stories of courage always stirred my heart.
The next year I was good enough to wrestle on the varsity team Ė the highest level in high school. I wrestled at the 119 weight class. My record wasnít very good, but I won enough to earn my varsity letter and buy a letter sweater to sew it on. I was so very proud of it. It was quite a feat to earn a varsity letter before your senior year. I earned a third place medal at the district meet that year.
I didnít go out for football my senior year in order to prepare for the wrestling season. I wrestled in the 126 weight class. My record that year was 15 wins and 9 losses, earning a medal for placing third in the conference wrestling meet. Our wrestling team did well that year and I was included in the team photo that found its place in one of the display cases in the foyer of the school. After that season I did some freestyle wrestling at some meets and did well, wrestling at about 140 pounds.
I made some good friends in high school. Tom Del Campo and his brother Frank were good friends who were on the wrestling team with my brother Jim and I. Glen Kost, Mike Freiberg, and Rick Kirstein were some others. We did a lot of crazy stuff together. Friday nights we sometimes went to Glenís house to watch Creature Features, the corny TV show that played old monster movies. Several summers we took trips up to the north woods in Canada to camp. We took Glenís dadís motor boat with us, and had a great time.
I had the usual crushes on some girls during high school, but only dated a girl named Chris several times my senior year. She was a cute tall blond gal. She was the first girl I ever kissed. I was naÔve and knew little about those things! But looking back I see how God in His grace kept me safe in so many ways from doing things a person shouldnít do.
In high school I had my first real job. Every kid takes on a job or two during his young years. My brother and I mowed lawns for neighbors in the summer and shoveled driveways after snowstorms in the winter. We also had paper routes as I mentioned earlier. My first real job with pay and weekly hours was at Flaherty Jewelers in Arlington Heights at $1.60 an hour. That was big money for me in 1970. Later I worked at Cock Robin making hamburgers (or grease burgers as we used to call them!) and serving ice cream. Finally in high school I worked for Lattof Chevrolet as a car hiker, driving people home while their cars were repaired, and doing odd jobs around the car lot.
Art became big in my life in high school. I was encouraged in it by my art teacher Fritz Michaelis. I think he saw talent as well as an adventurous spirit in me, and encouraged me to experiment in many art mediums. How important I felt when he entrusted me with oxy-acetylene welding. I loved to go into the art rooms at lunch time and create art by welding metal. He taught me how to form a beautiful bead with the welding rod. I loved those days. I did a plaster sculpture and mounted it on a wood and steel base. It won a national award my senior year, and in the same year I also won the school art merit award. I felt so important.
I received very little praise from my dad for anything when I was young. Yet deep down in my heart I knew I was a capable young man, and when there was any chance to prove it, I did. So the praise of men and the ability to earn that praise were important things to me. Later on, when I found the Lord, His praise became, and still is, the thing most important to me. In this life where we still have so many goals and hopes and dreams, we are asked to believe God even though we donít see or feel or touch the accomplishment of those dreams. I praise God He ever gave me an adventurous spirit that wants to reach for more than the average and ordinary things in life.
During high school I began to be more and more conscious of spiritual things. I mentioned already how my brother and I were such an annoyance in the church meetings at times. But there were often times when we were quiet and I listened to what the preacher was saying. I often made the decision that I would think about God through the week. The next Sunday would come and I would realize I hadnít thought at all about Him, and this upset me. A consciousness of God and a desire for Him was forming in me.
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