Larry B. Read
Privilege and taking advantage of it was just a part of being a senior at Indian Springs School. Nowhere was this more prevalent than on soccer road trips. That fall, as every year before, our trip to play Webb School in Bellbuckle, Tennessee was one that was always anticipated with excitement.
The previous year the school bus had experienced mechanical troubles that had resulted in the fan blades puncturing the hood and the subsequent accident of another car that was rubber necking at our misfortune. This year would be different. Coach Ray Woodard had made the decision that the team would caravan in cars to Webb School and Cleveland Day School. The thought of hours spent on the side of the road was not appealing to anyone that had been on the previous trip.
Everyone had made the necessary arrangements to either drive their own car or borrow their parents' vehicle. Deak Rushton had his father's Buick Rivera, Mike Osborn had his father's Mercedes Benz, and I had my Mazda RX-3. Everyone had secured their own claim to who was riding with whom. We were scheduled to leave Indian Springs that Friday morning, eat lunch in Chattanooga, and play a late afternoon game against Webb.
On Thursday I had been horsing around with Richard Drennen next to the old Town Hall and he had slammed the restroom door on my fingers, breaking two of them. One of my fingers was so badly smashed that I needed to go to the hospital for a couple of stitches. This had left my fingers a little sore and swollen.
I had made arrangements for Max Pulliam and Danny Fetterman to ride in my car with Max driving. It was not so much that I was unable to drive but it was much easier to sit in the back seat and leave the driving to Max and Danny. This was going to be the best road trip ever.
Friday morning was beautiful. The sun was bright and the temperature was near perfect. As we left Indian Springs there were a dozen cars entrusted to Coach Woodard. Our first scheduled stop would be Granny's Restaurant just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Now anyone that played on the soccer team knew that Granny's was the place to eat. Red checkerboard tablecloth tables, hillbilly trinkets, and the best hamburgers to be found anywhere. The trip to Granny's would take every bit of three hours.
When we finally arrived at Granny's we were a little anxious from being on the road for several hours. As usual, Coach Woodard had given each of us an allowance to eat lunch and we all found tables and made ourselves comfortable. Now there was one thing that was different about this trip, one of our teammates was a girl - Sally Nemeth. It wasn't that we disliked her, but it was awkward. It had only been one year since Indian Springs had become coed. I think we had all been going to an all boys' school much too long and obviously lack the social skills needed in communicating with the opposite sex. During lunch, when Sally went to the restroom, Deck Fowler suggested that we moon Sally. Being that Sally was riding in Deck's car, he suggested that once we left Granny's that he would follow my car and that when the time was right that we would moon her. This sounded like a fabulous plan and I was the lucky one to deliver this insult. It was agreed and the plan was set.
About thirty miles from Granny's the moment of truth had arrived. As Max was driving and Danny Fetterman was in the front seat, I positioned myself to give Sally the best moon she would ever see. Just as I had mooned Sally, Max noticed that a charter bus was passing us and started to blow the horn. In a matter of seconds, I had repositioned myself to bestow upon the bus and its passengers a full moon that they too would never forget. The bus passed and we laughed about our harmless prank.
Twenty minutes later we noticed that a Tennessee State Trooper was making his way through the traffic on the interstate. I told Max to watch his speed; weaving in and out of traffic, it looked as if the trooper was determined to stop a speeder. Much to my surprise, he was right behind us with all his lights on. Looking out the rear window I could tell that he had a determined look on his face. This man was not smiling. I immediately told Max to try and get Coach Woodard's attention and pull over.
As we eased to the side of the interstate, the caravan also began to slowly pull over. As I watched the trooper get out of his cruiser, I noticed that he had a U.S. Marine style haircut and a flat brim "Smokey the Bear" hat. The type of hat where the tight leather strap wrinkles up the skin on the back of his head. I also noticed that he had slipped his baton into his belt ring. I watched him move towards the car. At this same time, Max started to reach for his driver's license and looked out his window for the trooper. In fact, all three of us were looking out the driver's window for the state trooper. Unfortunately, Danny Fetterman had his arm resting on the open window of the passenger door and in a split second his arm was twisted back and the trooper's baton was forcefully shoved under his chin.
"Which one of you sons of bitches likes to hang his ass out the window?"
There was complete fear and silence. As Max turned to look at the trooper, he gave the trooper a look of stupidity that included rolling his eyes back as to say "do you really think I could be driving and do that?" I'm sure this did not help the situation.
At this point, I spoke up and identified myself as the guilty party and was told to "Get out!" Danny Fetterman was promptly removed from the front passenger seat and told to sit in the grass on the side of the interstate. Max was instructed to do the same.
I couldn't believe this was happening. Time was moving much too fast. I was intentionally slow to get out of the back seat of my own car. I was certain that this trooper was going to pound me senseless. Never in my life had I wanted so badly to see Coach Woodard. I needed a hero and I needed one soon. As I started to make my way from the back seat, I could see Coach Woodard walking down the side of the interstate. To this day I can still picture him with his hands on his hips and his head cocked to one side. If he could just walk a little faster I might be saved from God only knows what was about to happen.
Just as I managed to produce myself to the trooper, Coach Woodard was standing next to me. He asked the trooper what was going on?
"This son of a bitch likes to hang his ass out the window!"
No sweeter works were spoken than Coach Woodard's reply, "Damn't Read!"
As Coach Woodard tried to reason with him, the trooper's only thoughts were of locking me up in Chattanooga. In fact, he assured me that he had already radioed for another trooper to come pick me up. During my short interrogation, the trooper asked me where was I raised? I only assumed that he was trying to determine where I was in the car when I mooned the bus. I quickly answered that I was in the back seat. Frustrated, he asked the question again, clarifying that this was a left handed insult as to my upbringing. I humbly responded, "Birmingham".
Now the charter bus was pulling off the interstate and the driver quickly advocated his desire to have me arrested, flogged and crucified. He explained that the bus was chartered with children from a catholic school and everyone aboard had been offended by my actions. I actually believe that this claim of children being traumatized was grossly exaggerated; nevertheless, a bad situation had just gotten worse.
I'm not quite sure what Coach Woodard promised both the trooper and the bus driver and I really did not care as long as I was released into his care. I apologized to both of them and asked their forgiveness. With great relief I had been sparred the humiliation of confinement, but only for the moment. I then was escorted to Coach Woodard's car, where the remainder of the trip to Bellbuckle would be spent. I really don't remember Coach Woodard saying too much and I know I did not. As for me playing in the afternoon game - not a chance.
To add fuel to the fire, we did not win the game against Webb. I would like to believe that we lost due to my lack of presence on the field; however, I was not stupid enough to debate this with Coach Woodard. I bet you can guess who did play. Lessons in life are better remembered after years of thought.
I kept a low profile that night. There were jokes from Max and Danny wanting to know how the bus driver was able to identify me, was I asked to drop my pants for a positive ID. A couple of my teammates felt that I should be removed from the team permanently.
The next morning after breakfast, Coach Woodard assembled the team in the parking lot and promised that any mention of what had happened would be met with unspeakable consequences. I'm not sure what this meant. I was suspended from the team for two weeks, although my suspension only lasted less than a week.
I can only conclude that somewhere in Ray Woodard's heart he had a soft spot for me. Maybe it was the many nights eating dinner with him in the Dining Hall; maybe it was something else. I might never know but I do know one thing: Ray Woodard has a special place in my heart.
Larry B. Read
Copyright © 2002