Learning life lessons in Skeez Sullivan’s gym class

Learning life lessons in Skeez Sullivan’s gym class

Sometimes one little comment can bring back a memory you didn’t even know you had.

That happened to me the other day when I was trying to talk my oldest daughter into playing fifth-grade basketball later this school year.

“I did the hoop shoot thing at school yesterday,” she said, “and I didn’t make one shot.”

Immediately I was brought back to the old Kennedy Elementary gym on a day I had completely forgotten about. It was Mr. Sullivan’s physical education class in third or fourth grade, and he was conducting the qualifying for the Elks Hoop Shoot.

I took the line confident that if I wasn’t going to make a lot of shots, at least I could look like I knew what I was doing as I shot them.

On the first attempt I toed the line. Dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble. Then I tossed the ball in front of me with backspin so it would bounce back to me. Then, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble and shoot. It missed.

I repeated that routine on all 10 of my shots, and I missed all 10 of them.

As the ball hit the floor on my last shot, I noticed the teacher, John “Skeez” Sullivan, motioning me over to him.

“C’mere,” Mr. Sullivan said as he waived his arm. “How many shots did you just make?”

Having watched all of my shots, Mr. Sullivan knew the answer to the question. I answered anyway.

“I didn’t make any, Mr. Sullivan,” I said.

“Now,” Mr. Sullivan said, “you didn’t make a single shot, but you wasted everybody’s time by bouncing the ball around like that? Why would you do that?”

I had no answer to the teacher, but I got the message loud and clear.

Once I got to know Mr. Sullivan as “Skeez,” he became one of my favorite people. Back when I was missing free throws, though, he was my second favorite gym teacher. Out of two.

Mr. Sullivan was distant second to Mr. Donaldson for two reasons. One, which wasn’t Mr. Sullivan’s fault, was that Mr. Donaldson was our Friday teacher and Mr. Sullivan was our Monday teacher.

School was always way more fun on Friday. Even if there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, Monday’s were always dark and miserable to me in grade school.

The second reason was Mr. Donaldson always just let us have fun. It was mostly prison ball on Fridays. Mr. Sullivan was more strict, and he made us learn things. He also made us do more calisthenics.

I never once got in trouble in Mr. Donaldson’s gym. Mr. Sullivan’s gym was another story.

The worst trouble I got into came one gloomy Monday when Mr. Sullivan was splitting up the class into two-person teams for a competition of some kind involving tennis balls.

I don’t know exactly what the game was. I didn’t get to watch because Mr. Sullivan made me stand with my face in the corner throughout the entire game.

That’s because the selection of quality opponents was drying up as Mr. Sullivan randomly put the students on teams. I was one of the last four students picked, and another was a small, very uncoordinated girl. There was no way I would be competitive with that girl as my teammate.

(It should be noted, by the way, that the girl I refer to as “uncoordinated” tied with me in that hoop shoot qualifier.)

When Mr. Sullivan paired the girl with another boy, I mutter “phew” under my breath. At least it was meant to be under my breath.

Mr. Sullivan heard it, and he was not happy. He yelled for me to go stand in the corner, and he repeatedly threw tennis balls at me as I made my slow, embarrassing walk of shame.

The only thing that was missing was a dunce cap.

Later, Mr. Sullivan called me over again and lectured me about how I hurt the feelings of that girl. I don’t remember what he said word for word, but I know it included a “Why would you do that?”

Just like with dribbling before the free throws, I think the answer was that I apparently thought I was a whole lot better than I actually was.

While I didn’t realize it at the time, having Mr. Sullivan as my gym teacher every Monday turned out to be a very good thing.

Because of Mr. Sullivan’s teaching, I can now entertain my kids by juggling. On a good day I can do it for about 30 seconds, and that is more than enough time to entertain a 4 year old.

I’d also like to think that I learned to be more considerate of the feelings of other, though that is certainly up for debate.

Something that is not debatable, though, is that Mr. Sullivan convinced me at a young age that substance is way more important than style.

The next year when it came time for the Elks Hoop Shoot qualifying during gym class, I didn’t dribble nearly as much. I wasted little time in making 8 of 10 free throws, and I qualified for the city shoot.

I had absolutely forgotten that I competed in the city shoot at Montana Tech that year. That memory probably would have never resurfaced if my daughter had not told me that she went 0 for 10 in that same gym last week.

While I think I’m losing the battle to convince the girl to play basketball, the memory of Skeez Sullivan’s gym class has given me hope in another area.

If nothing else, I know she still has a chance in next year’s Elks Hoop Shoot.

— Bill Foley, who actually looks good in a dunce cap, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 2 comments

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  • Gregory Leetz
    November 4, 2014, 6:38 am

    Wow…. Talk about a blast from the past. I got into to so much trouble in gym with Mr. Sullivan (totally my fault I am sure). I learned how to juggle, and do me some double dutch from him tho.

  • Barbara Sullivan
    November 4, 2014, 9:43 pm

    I learned one thing from Mr. Sullivan in regard to free-throws. Bend your knees and finish on your toes…………….


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