Copyright© 2015 by Bill Offutt
"Well, what do you think, sir? Could the South have won the Civil War?"
Bud leaned back with his buttocks resting on the teacher's desk and squinted at the boy asking the question. David something, he thought to himself, new to the school, a transfer from the public schools, a young one from the look of him, wonder why he's here.
"Martin is it?" Bud asked, as he was about to reach for this grade book.
"Yes sir," the boy said, bobbing his head.
"Let me ask you this; how did we win the American Revolution. Have you studied that?"
The youngster with the mop of light-colored hair nodded, scratched his ear and said, "Washington's leadership I suppose, oh, and the British got tired."
"Yep." Bud said, "Both are important but perhaps not crucial. Jamison, how did we manage to beat the Redcoats?"
The boy he called on looked up, startled, blinked, and said, "Sir?"
"Get in the game," Bud said. "Michaels?"
The pimpled youngster whose tie was seldom knotted properly gulped and said, "The French, sir."
"Eh?" said Bud, wrinkling his forehead and trying to look puzzled.
"We got French help, both army and navy," the boy said.
"Could we have won without that help?"
"I don't know," the boy said slowly. "Maybe."
"Anybody?" asked Bud.
"What's that got to do with the Civil War?" asked the new student, his hand up.
"Ah ha," said Bud brightly, "indeed. What's the connection, Mr. Gittings, what's the connection?"
"Well the Southerners did get some help, especially from the British, but after the Emancipation Proclamation, that door pretty much closed."
"Yep," Bud said. "I agree, but was foreign help crucial?"
"Didn't they think those countries over there would have to help them to get their cotton?" asked a boy in the front row after Bud nodded at his raised hand.
"You're right," Bud said. "We cannot prove it, but I think that the South, outnumbered and outmanufactured as they were, could not have won unless, I repeat, unless they got foreign support. They might have without emancipation or if Lincoln had lost the election in '64, but I doubt it. The British built some ships for them, blockade runners and commerce raiders."
The bell rang and Bud pointed to the assignment written on the blackboard as the boys got their books together and hurried from the room. The new student stayed behind.
"Can I try out for basketball?" he asked.
"Sure," said Bud, "the season's barely started. Where did you play before?"
"Wilson, in D.C., just JV."
"OK, see you after school, and we'll take a look."
"Thanks," the boy said with a wave. This was his second day in class. He sure looks young, Bud thought, but then so did most of the juniors.
Three boys were shooting foul shots at baskets on the side while most of the others were practicing at the good backboards on either end of the court. Bud noted that they were all present, blew his whistle and said, loudly, "That's David Martin over there tying his shoes. He's getting a try out. Two lines!" The practice began.
The new boy proved to be left handed, and Bud yelled at him several times, "Left foot, right hand" when they were practicing lay-ups from the right. "Use both hands if you need to."
The boy nodded, made an effort and missed about half his shots from the right but made all of them from the left, most of them down the middle and showed good speed and constant hustle. He fit into the three-man weave and fast break exercises quickly and during the two-on-two drills showed some good moves and quick releases from fifteen feet or so, most of his shots two-handed.
Late in the practice, in a full-court scrimmage, the newcomer displayed his ability to hit the open man with sure passes and took a few shots, banking in one. He was easily the shortest player on the court, but he dug in on defense and stayed with his man, arms extended, palms up, showing he had been coached before. Bud patted him on the back and asked him to come back the next day. Then he talked to both team captains and received ambiguous responses.
The next morning before classes began, Bud went to the front office and asked the principal about his new student. All he learned was that the boy brought decent grades with him and a record of spotty attendance. He had not been expelled.
At lunchtime one of his starters approached him in his basement office. "That new fellow?" he said.
"David Martin, right. What about him?" Bud asked.
"I think he's a fairy," the senior said, looking over the coach's head and avoiding his eyes.
"Oh, what makes you say that?" Bud leaned back in his swivel chair, hands behind his head. The boy looked embarrassed.
"I don't know," he said. "He just strikes me wrong. He's kind of girlish."
"I hadn't noticed," Bud said. "Anything else?"
The boy shook his head. "Bobby said he got thrown out of Wilson."
"Thanks, I'll check into it," Bud said. "Don't be late to class."
Bud looked up the number, called the D.C. high school and asked for the athletic office. He identified himself to the man who answered and said he wanted some information about a new student name David Martin.
"What school is this?" the man asked.
"St. Thomas, out in Silver Spring, Georgia Avenue," Bud said.
"The kid's got some talent, but he's also got some problems. He doesn't get along with the guys. I'd call him a loner."
"Attendance problem?" Bud asked.
"Not real bad, but kind of off and on toward the end, before he quit."
"Fights? Has he been in that kind of trouble?" Bud asked.
"Time or two. He got picked on some last year, but he played JV basketball, good dribbler, fair shot as I recall. He wasn't a starter, and he quit the team halfway through the season; said his grades were falling. I don't know."
"Thanks," Bud said. 'Anybody suggest he might be queer?"
"Yeah, but they say that about each other all the time. He's OK. I got to go."
During the next day of practice, Bud noticed that the new boy was getting pushed around and elbowed some, and he was knocked down once under the basket when he tried for a rebound. He came up with a bloody nose and Bud threw him a towel and told him to lie down and put his head back.
At the end of practice when the boys were running length-of-the-floor wind sprints, David was right up there with the fastest. As they stood panting on the end line, hands on knees, Bud yelled, "OK, Charlie, one-and-one. You make 'em both we hit the showers; miss and we run some more."
The senior co-captain stepped to the foul line, bounced the ball and then shot it off the back rim. Up and back they ran, thumping the floor, and Bud put the other captain on the line. He made the first and missed the second shot. They ran again, everybody gasping by then.
"Martin," Bud yelled. "One and one." He threw the newcomer a bounce pass.
He swished two very quickly and the rest of the boys cheered and ran for the showers. David Martin smiled at the coach and joined them as the team manager gathered up the balls and practice jerseys.
Bud had his shoes and his shirt off when he heard cursing and yelling coming from the locker room. He hurried out in his bare feet and found David Martin on the shower room tiles, huddled into a fetal position after the rest of the boys scrambled away.