"HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE?" Francis Schaeffer

Sunday, October 20, 2013

ROBERT "Bob" O'BRIEN - Kudos to a fine man.

     High School functions under a fairly rigid caste system; Rule 1) Seniors have nothing to do with freshman unless it's the quarterback of the football team flirting or dating the prettiest Jr. Varsity cheerleader in view. Otherwise, seniors do not generally acknowledge that freshmen even exist.  Why would they.
     Being a "gym rat" I entered the all but deserted gymnasium one afternoon to practice my shots.  I was 5'5" tall, I weighed 115 pounds.  Even other freshmen don't know I exist.  It's a big high school.  I was pretty comfortable being anonymous. It lessened your chance of being "pantsed" by arrogant and nasty sophomores who are celebrating their newly acquired status of no longer being freshmen;  the lowest of the low in the high school caste system, by trying to humiliate them.  My freshman goal in life;  avoid being humiliated.
    At the far end of the gym shooting baskets is Bob O'Brien.  As it turns out, Bob is also a "gym rat."  There are 6 baskets in the gym; Bob's at one end, I, being an undersized and anonymous freshmen head to the other.  I hear Bob say, "Why don't you come down here and shoot with me."  I realize there must be someone else in the gym beside me and Bob.  I carefully look for the third basketball player.  There isn't one.  Bob must be talking to me.  That doesn't make sense.
    I look at Bob, point towards myself and squeak "Me?".  He says, "Come on down."  I slowly and somewhat suspiciously walk down to his end of the gym.  He walks up to me and says, "I'm Bob.  What's your name." I stammer - "er Jim."  He shakes my hand and invites me to shoot.
    Now here's the problem.  He WASN'T just "Bob."  He was "Bob O'Brien" President of the senior class, ALL C.I.F. basketball player HIS JUNIOR YEAR and acknowledged to be the school stud.  He was 6'3", he weighed a muscular 190 and he was the quintessential B.M.O.C.  There wasn't a soul on the campus who didn't know who Bob O'Brien was.  And yet, he had initiated a conversation with me - nameless, faceless freshman of no particular ability or claim to fame.  We shot baskets for awhile, I spent the whole time trying to unravel the mystery, why did Bob O'Brien ask me to shoot with him.  Being seen on the same court with me would not enhance his status with other B.M.O.Cs nor B.W.O.Cs.  He didn't seem to care.  Well, finally he had to go, told me "bye" and left.  Through-out the rest of the year, if he saw me, he generally acknowledged my existence.  Because we both played high school basketball ( He at the Varsity level, me at the "Dee" level) we did cross paths on occasion.  He would look at me and smile.  Then he graduated and went off to college.  At least once after that, I ended up shooting baskets with him at the community gym one Christmas when he was home from college. He saw me, walked over and started talking to me like we were peers.  I was quite flattered that he remembered me a couple of years after matriculating off to college.
   I've never forgotten Bob, kind of kept an eye on what became of him as best I could.

     Today, I wanted to write a post on him and did a google search.  He ended up getting a doctorate and has been on the faculty of the University of Oregon many years after a career at the University of California, Riverside.  Here's a link:  http://sociology.uoregon.edu/faculty/obrien.php

     Kudos to you, Bob O'Brien, for breaking all the rules of the high school caste system to chat with a kid who was never in your league athletically or socially.  It meant so very much to me.  I tried to emulate him in high school, failed athletically but did end up feeling free to initiate conversations with other students who were not juniors or seniors.  He showed me how it was done

   Bob is in his late 60s now.  He can probably retire anytime.  I'm thinking when he does, the University of Oregon will have lost a great professor.   Here's to you Bob.

1 comment:

Backstreeter said...

kudos for a good post too.