I wait for the two grueling hours to begin as I stand straight and tall…stomach in, shoulders back, and eyes forward. There will be breaks to drink water, but none to rest.
Some of the others are chatting. One or two flinch when they hear the loud command from our stubborn, unrelenting leader. Most of us are sophomores at this high school. We are well out-ranked by our senior instructor, although we suspect she’s really some kind of angry, frustrated, military leader disguised as a pretty young woman.
That’s all it takes. We dive into formation like a gaggle of well-trained geese on their way south.
“Now listen up.”
General Patty, as we have dubbed her, stomps up and down the lines, clipboard in hand. We’re convinced she’s able to measure millionths of inches between the columns of some forty or so girls who thought being on the drill team would be fun.
She seems to be in two places at one time. Whoosh! Now, she’s right beside me, the first one in the third line.
“Here we go, girls. MARK TIME…MARK,” she yells, way too near my ear.
The sound of more than three dozen white sneakers pounds the ground on the football field. We resemble a jet about to take off as we adjust our proximity to our neighbors in front and to the side. General Patty is the control tower. We await her instructions.
With no warning, she throws this giant centipede of femininity into gear.
As smooth as a well oiled machine we cover a few yards in seconds and then she commands an about-face, then a left flank, then a right oblique. Suddenly, she requires a simple marching in place. She doesn’t want us to lose momentum as she makes us fix things that don’t seem broken.
“The city-wide drill team competition is in two weeks,” she yells in an accusatory way, as if we don’t have a clue why we are stomping around in synchronized step.”You people are not ready.”
How easy it would be to turn our heads ever so slightly and roll our eyes at each other, but like an eagle she would see the tiniest flicker of impudence and we’d get the full winners-aren’t-whiners lecture.
For a few minutes, while she rants and raves, we are allowed to stand at ease: feet apart, hands behind backs, no looking around…only listening. She barks us back to full attention, and then off we go left, right, left, right. That’s all. She gives no other orders for the fancy stuff. Are we going the whole length of this field?
About halfway to the goal post, she blasts instructions through the bullhorn. We assume that’s to be sure no one has accidently fallen asleep.
“Never look back, girls…NEVER! Do you understand me? It doesn’t matter if your team members are out of step. Just make sure that isn’t you. Keep those eyes forward at all times. Do not look to the right or the left, and certainly not behind you.”
Just before we hit the fence, she yells, “To the rear, MARCH!” and we do a beautiful precision turn as one body and head back to home base.
On the morning of the big competition we watch politely as team after team performs for the judges. We’re last on the roster. Without a word, we fall into formation. Each girl holds red, white, and blue pom-poms in her hands. General Patty faces us and does something shocking. She smiles.
The stirring song,*Anchors Aweigh, sails out of the speakers loud and clear. Right on cue we begin the rigorously practiced routine. She marches right beside us.
“Great job, girls. Don’t stop. Eyes forward…always forward. Keep going. You’re almost there.”
The song ends and our intense leader calls for us to halt. We stand perfectly still and listen to applause; eyes straight ahead, faces beaming with pride. Our school name is called and General Patty goes front and center to accept the first place trophy.
When we’re dismissed, no one moves. We seem stunned and rooted…that is until we see her tears. The girl is crying. That’s our signal to gather around to tell her thanks for pushing us further than we thought we could go, for believing in us, and for keeping our eyes on the objective at all times.
Even today, many decades past high school, when I hear that Navy song I find myself marching…just a little…and smiling.
[Based on a true story]
*Anchors Aweigh was composed in 1906 by Charles A. Zimmerman and is the fight song for the United States Naval Academy.
1 Corinthians 9:25 (NLT)
All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.
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