Last One Picked

Our seventh grade class was divided into several cliques: the boy crazy girls, the horse crazy girls, the sporty girls, the brainy girls and the blah girls, the default category of those with no mainstream identity. The boy crazy girls were defined by the fact that boys pursued them, the horse crazy girls by the fact that they had a horse, and the brainy girls by the fact that their names were read out at assemblies and then prominently posted on a hallway bulletin board.  The attributes of the sporty girls were on display every afternoon in gym class.

These cliques were pretty much mutually exclusive.  I don’t think that any of the boy crazy girls would be considered brainy, in part because academic achievement was not a big turn on for the boys.  The sporty girls were not considered boy crazy because the boys had no knowledge of girls’ sports.  And the horse crazy girls, well they were just in their own world as they galloped across the field whinnying.

Although I occasionally flirted with being brainy, I had pinned my identity on being sporty.  It was fairly easy to qualify, all I needed to do was hit a baseball out of the infield or throw on target.  My grandfather had also taught me all the arcane rules of baseball.  I was in.  However, unlike the other cliques it was also painfully obvious who was out.  I could easily finesse my tone deafness; I simply didn’t try out for choir.  The boy crazy group was a clandestine affair, involving passing notes in class, and there was no such thing as a low honor roll.  But gym class was a required daily activity; it was impossible to hide ineptitude.

One afternoon the gym teacher selected me, along with my friend Kit, to be captains of the softball team.  My classmates stood in a row in front of me squinting into the afternoon sun, wearing a uniform of baggy green cotton shorts, and cute white button down shirts with Peter Pan collars, this being an era before t-shirts were ever considered appropriate outerwear for girls.  Some hopefully punched their fists into their mitts, some stared directly at me, and some looked down and rubbed their shoes into the infield dirt.

Kit and I quickly made our first selections from the ranks of the sporty girls.  I chose athletic Susan as the pitcher and then considered potential infielders.  Short stop and second base were important choices; they would see most of the action, and there might be some chance of holding the batter to a single. The priority between third and first base was a toss-up.  It would be nice to have a decent fielder at third, but I knew that few of us could throw all the way across the infield to first.  On the other hand, the first baseman did not have to be a good fielder since few balls were hit toward the right.  But I did want the first baseman to able to catch a ball.  Theoretically, the rest of the infielders would be throwing the ball directly to first and all she had to do was stick her mitt out – much easier than trying to field a ball skidding off the lumpy infield. I selected Pam, Helen and Lucy for the infield.  I kept first base for myself – this high visibility, low stress position was a captain’s prerogative.

Kit and I had now run through all the athletes and were moving into the ranks of marginally capable and totally inept.  Suddenly I felt the crushing responsibility of my captaincy.  I wanted to showcase my savvy by making deft choices, but I also knew that with a careless pick, I could scuttle the identity of a classmate who foolishly thought she qualified as a sporty girl.

I agonized as I considered my next picks for catcher and the outfield.

Traditionally, the catcher is the rock of the team, the on-field captain squatting in the dirt and standing firm as a runner comes barreling down from third.  These criteria were just not relevant on our seventh grade team.  I didn’t think any remaining classmates would know when and how to tag a player.  Besides who among us would even consider a full frontal collision?  That might be appropriate for boys, but girls’ sports were a resolutely non-contact affair.  Chances are that feminine politeness would rule the day, with the catcher simply stepping out of the way of an incoming runner.

However, I did have a secret agenda for the catcher.  I thought I would put one of the queen bee types at catcher and instruct her to use her natural skills at peer pressure to convince the batter to take a swing at a bad pitch.  As the pitch came in, she could say, “Hey batter, batter, this looks like a good one.  You better take a swing at this. If you just stand there you will look like a dope.  Here it comes, Hey batter, batter, swing, Swing SWING!”  Debbie would be perfect for this position.  She was the leader among the boy-crazies and her coed parties were a coveted invitation.  Her clique had always been just beyond my reach, but I thought if I put Debbie in the spotlight at catcher she might reciprocate by finally inviting me to one of her parties.

My next strategy was to platoon some horse crazy girls in the outfield.  Even though they probably could not catch a fly ball, I assumed that they could run like the wind, and besides they would feel most at home in the pasture-like setting of the outfield.  I slated Peggy and Jennifer for the outfield and hoped they appreciated my captain’s thoughtfulness. One pick left.

And there they stood before me, Gloria and Denise, my two most spectacularly unathletic classmates.  From a competitive standpoint, it really didn’t matter who I picked, I was just going to stash her out in right field – nobody ever hit to the opposite field.  But I realized with horror that my pick would leave only one classmate.  By default, she would become the “last one picked” and suffer the eternal stigma of schoolyard shame.  I felt like I was taking out a dull needle and stitching the scarlet letters “LOP” onto a fragile adolescent psyche.

Gloria was relatively new to our school, and her almost translucent skin, frizzy hair and steady presence on the high honor roll made her an unfortunate target of casual adolescent cruelty.  But the odd thing about Gloria was that she was totally oblivious to our scorn, thought that the “kick-me” sign pasted to her skirt was a laugh riot, and tolerated other slights with amazing good humor.  She was the type of person who would not realize that being sent to play right field without a mitt was a form of damage control, rather than an affirmation of her fielding abilities.  I did not know Denise well, except that somehow her nickname was Puddles.  She was tall, clunky and had a perpetual sour look on her face, but now she looked at me eagerly.  Perhaps my pick could rescue her from the blah clique.  But I froze.  Kit stood quietly next to me, she would inherit the last pick; her hands would be clean and blameless.

The honor of being selected as a captain gave way to resentment.  I had lingering guilt about Gloria’s kick me sign, but now it seemed that I had been forced into an agent of institutionalized cruelty. How could the gym teacher do this to a seventh grader?  Was this supposed to be a life lesson for me – my first “lonely at the top” decision?  What kind of life lesson was this for the unfortunate last one picked?

On an impulse, and perhaps to redeem my past kick-me sin, I picked Gloria, who gratefully skipped over to my team.  As I watched a deflated Puddles trudge over to Kit’s team I despaired that in atoning for one sin, I had simply committed another.

I was too traumatized to have any recollection of the sad little game we played.  However, as we straggled back to the locker room, Puddles caught up to me and said, “I know that I’m no good at softball, but my mother told me that there was an accident when I was born and my right ankle is weak and that is why I can’t run fast.  It’s not my fault you know.”  I was stunned.  It was utterly unfair to spring a disability on me.  As captain, I should have been given some sort of scouting report.  Even the meanest person would not make a disabled person the last one picked.  A cloying veil of guilt seeped into my core.

Years later, I spotted a picture of Puddles at a black tie event.  She was stunning, slim and tall, a real boy crazy girl at last.  And this was an identity she could luxuriate in every single day just by looking in the mirror, far surpassing any ephemeral athletic clique, and far surpassing my stillborn sense of style.  Then I began to think that I had it all wrong.  It was me, I was the victim here.  Puddles must have known that she was not athletic; certainly I was not the first or last captain to stigmatize her as the last one picked.  She was just seeking revenge.  Yes, that must have been it.  She had brilliantly concocted her “damaged at birth” story to inflict maximum damage on my sporty girl identity.  I felt the veil lift and dissipate.  I took one more look at the picture, closed the magazine and tossed it.

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.


The day * ***** up as  captain, I thought it would be fun,

Until I realized it meant that I had to cruelly single out someone.

I would designate the last one picked, and certainly it couldn’t be ******,

That I would stigmatize, humiliate and likely destroy someone’s precious pride.

******, Gloria and Denise stood before me, the last two left and I had to name a name,

I picked Gloria and then for decades suffered penetrating guilt and enduring shame.






Answers: I ended, denied, indeed

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