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RUTLEDGE: Never give up on your dream of being a college athlete

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

My dream of being recruited to play college sports finally has come true. Yes, it's community college dodgeball. So what? "College athlete" still gets added to the resume.

It is not surprising that I would be called up for my skills at this game. I'm a veteran player, having started young in the Johnson City, Tenn., public schools.

It was a harmless game in the early years. The teacher would divide the class, placing half the kids inside a circle formed by the other half. The kids forming the circle would take turns throwing a red rubber ball at the kids inside the circle.

Above-the-belt shots were frowned upon. It was good, clean fun and I don’t recall anyone ever getting hurt.

When we advanced to junior high school, dodgeball graduated to something called battleball. Teams lined up on either end of the basketball court and raced to a pile of balls in the center circle. The balls represented a mix of other, more legitimate sports, and were partially deflated for maximum grip and lethal velocity.

At the starting whistle, each team raced to the circle of balls and began pounding one another. Headshots were perfectly legal and bloody noses were not rare.

The girls were no longer allowed to play with the boys, and for good reason. A few of the boys had outgrown the physical education faculty and could throw a partially deflated kickball hard enough to tip a cow.

The deadliest thrower was Anthony McInturff, AKA Big Mac, an all-around athlete who once spelled the word “Spaulding” across my midsection in pink. At the end of that day, I realized I'd made a huge mistake by not charging a nickel for every kid who asked to see my Big Mac belly word.

I was never the last skinny kid dodging Anthony's throws against the wall of folded bleachers, but that kid was fortunate in one way. If he could manage to dodge the Big Mac Attack for a minute or so, the coaches would call the game — to save the bleachers, not the kid.

I wrote about those legendary battleball matches eight years ago after spending time with some former teammates, including Anthony, during our 30-year Science Hill High School reunion. Anthony has had a long career coaching high school athletics on the Hill.

I ended that column by suggesting he open our old gym at the next reunion for a nostalgic round of classic battleball. That would be coming up in two years, and I might be the only classmate still playing the game.

The dodgeball tournament at the college where I work is a support-staff fundraiser. A full gym is expected for the seven-team event. The president's team has been trash-talking our team, which consists mostly of third-floor computer geeks. The president even named his team “Stuxnet,” after a malicious computer worm.

If we can get by the women’s volleyball team, we’ll have a good shot at taking out the president's team.

If not, I know a longtime high school coach who might be interested in a part-time adjunct position for next year.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com, or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.

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