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If I Had a Tail…

If I Had a Tail…
Photo courtesy of Rodney Blackman

Mac-n-cheese dinners – Members Only – Late night Crockett and Tubbs – The Breakfast Club – The Grapevine – Zuma Beach – Helmets? – D.A.R.E. – Bicycle shorts – Hotchkiss Lounge – Huey Lewis and the News – Magic Mountain – Lyons Ave. – Bomber Jacket – Brooke Shields – The Walkman – Student-teaching little kiddos – Mirrored Ray Bans – Mixtapes – Road trip – Parachute pants – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Purple Rain – Chapel – Gotta love the Mullet! – Fish tacos on Revolution Boulevard – Kokomo – Flem – With or Without You…

Aye! Perhaps you recognize a few of those icons, there, yes? Ok, ok – true. Those were icons before icons were something you click. Admittedly, there’s something juvenile about that list, eh? Perhaps even a little puerile, now, looking back? How much of that list do you recognize? If you were to make a quick list of your own, what would your icons be? And what would your icons have in common with these?

Wow! Time flies, eh? There’s a mathematical reason for that, you know. Yep. Mixed in with a minor perception puzzle. Kinda like the Doppler Effect. See, each day that we live is a smaller fraction of our whole lives. Which makes the time that it takes for one day to complete seem to be shorter than what it actually is. And day upon day upon day of this perception – this is what makes time fly. For example, when you were 5, one (1) year was 20% of your whole life! And, time was something not yet really learned. But by the time you were 20, one (1) year was only 5% of your life. So, each day we live seems shorter, and seems to go by faster!

As those not-so-far-away days and the merry sounds of them continue to go Dopplering away, the sun is still keeping time, and the world is shifting to a perspective tilted toward aptitude and capacity over experience. We’re driving that train. And this may be one of our greatest gifts to those who come behind us…

And, if we think about it, this shift is still set square inside the splash zone of the Fountain of Youth. Because, now more than ever, education is key. Being educated. Educating oneself. Becoming and educated person. Doing what it takes to stay current – and not believing everything you read or hear (thank you, Fake News). Back to the Fountain of Youth – what is the one thing that is the closest thing to the Fountain of Youth?

Education, one might say, yes? Hmmm. Partly true, at least, I think. But perhaps more precisely, what if we consider the environment surrounding education? This may be manifest as the university – or university life…. Or, simply, the classroom. In the classroom, some things remain constant, while still others are always changing. There are certain expectations, but the chemistry of the players is rarely static. And this would be especially true of physical education.

Let’s hop back to the classroom for a moment – when you think of a classroom, what do you think of first? Good memories? Or, nah? Most of us would likely associate classrooms with school, right? School. But school is so much more than education, yeah? It is a place for social expression – for the achievement of autonomy, in some form, and for the coming of age. We all love coming of age stories, eh? Well, maybe. But what about etymology? Oi! Yikes! But ok – let’s look at that. When you think of school, you think of scholar, right? Well, maybe not your first thought – but school and scholar seem to be related, yes? Perhaps they’re from the same root word? Yes. We get our English words “school” and “scholar” from the root word “schole,” which is Greek. Not surprising. Makes sense. So what does “schole” mean? Glad you asked – cos here’s where it gets really interesting… Schole is the Greek word for “leisure.”

Leisure? Yes! Absolutely! Learning is fun? Maybe. But certainly, leisure, at least to the Ancient Greeks, was the ultimate expression of life – the most desired state – the best place to be – having fun! Having leisure. Learning. Getting educated. These all are related, and relevant to life well lived, and life lived at its best.

For your reference, leisure is not the opposite of work. The opposite of work is non-work. Now, we’ve all had jobs that we look back at and wonder how we made it. Like, that job was exhausting! Or, that job was insane! How did I do that!?! Like, being a camp director. Whoa. I was never more tired at the end of the day than when I was a camp director. Yikes! I suppose I should thank Gunnar and Cali for that. If you’re out there guys, and reading – thank you!! For though I was exhausted, you were timeless joys!!

But, one of the hardest jobs I ever had was teaching junior high PE. What an age. Wow! The pressures of junior highers are excoriating. And, admittedly I didn’t last long at that. 2 – 3 years at the most. For me, 2 – 3 years of that was max load! Now – imagine a person doing that for most of their entire career!

Enter my boy Craig. Get this, ladies and gentlemen. Craig Nystrom has been teaching in the public school system in southern California for almost 30 years. To be exact, he spent 23 years teaching General education junior high PE in the Palmdale School District. And now, he’s on his 5th year as an adaptive PE teacher for students with special needs!!

Have you ever met someone who is both durable, and flexible? Wow, yeah. That has to be Craig. Or Craiger, as me and me mates would call him, back in the day. Yep. Craig and I were roommates in college, and we stayed roommates for a year or two after we had graduated college. Back when we had just started teaching. And we were still eating mac-n-cheese dinners with a certain regularity.

Then Craig got engaged. To Lori. Ms. Lori Berman. One of the most delightful people you could ever meet! I can remember, sometime shortly after they were engaged, and it was her birthday, or some holiday, and Craig had bought her a gift. He came up to me and showed it to me, which went something like this…

So, he hands me this gadget of some sort. It’s about the size of my hand. And I’m like, “What’s this?” He’s like, “I’m giving it to her.” And I said, “What? This? What is it?” He said, “It’s a phone.” I said, “A phone?” He said, “Yeah. This is gonna be the new big thing. Mobile phones.” I said, “What’s it for?” He said, “So she can talk on it anytime she wants.” Not even trying to be funny, I said, “Why in the world would you want that?”

This was truly lost on me, at first. He patiently explained that he wanted Lori to be able to contact him if ever she needed him for anything. Thankfully, I realized that that was rather thoughtful of him. But at the same time, I honestly thought it was kinda crazy – and at best, extravagant. As close to a waste of money as you could get. But, what are those gift giving times for, if not extravagance, eh?

I did not – but perhaps Craig did – at the time, realize…just how popular and important mobile phones would become. And that was one of things I really admired about Craig – he was always on the edge, the ever-lovin’ bleeding edge of whatever it was that was going on in the world; and, he understood the way of things, and how to work with them appropriately. He always just got it. He was (and still is) a walking social phenomenon.

Even today, he’s just got this balance, like an engine tuned to split-second timing. After all those years teaching PE, he still looks young, lives a principle-driven life, and cares for his family (if you’ve not yet figured it, yes, that’s Craig and Lori and the fam pictured above).

Beyond measure, Craig has also taken great care of the young people in his classrooms.

He’s the kind of person who you want teaching your children about physical education. He’s the exact right guy to be teaching adaptive PE, because he sees the big picture, his care-quotient is unparalleled, and his abilities are profound. Don’t forget – he’s worked around junior high kids for almost his entire career. Are you kidding me? That’s amazing!

So I tried to make some estimates, based on limited knowledge of average class size and such…so, get this:

Craig Nystrom, under a conservative estimate, has personally, positively, and permanently impacted the lives of at least 2,500 young people, and their families. A more generous estimate, probably closer to the actual number, would be 3,500 young people, and their families. And I could be way off – perhaps a more accurate number is 50,000!

So, yeah, man! He’s way better than even bleeding-edge technology!

Durable. Flexible. Patient. Caring. Creative. Passionate. Magnetic. Respectful. Fun and Funny! And, tough enough to be kind.

So this is me tippin’ me fine Irish flat cap to my boy, Craiger. Aye! Me flat cap’s off!! What a career you’ve had, mate. What a legacy you’ve left. What a legend you are, mate. Keep on, brother!

And as an aside, it occurred to me what Craig would point out, in response…

There are over 50,000 junior high and middle school teachers in California.
There are over 2 million junior high and middle school students in California.
There are over 630,000 junior high and middle school teachers in the US.
There are almost 56 million students, up to grade 12, in the US. Over 10 million of them will attend junior high and middle schools.
All of them just as human as they can be.
All of them, just as human as you and me.

Aye! But, as the teachers go, Craig Nystrom is definitively one of the good ones!
Durable. Flexible. Patient. Caring. Magnetic. Tough enough to be kind. When all you’ve got is grieving. And all you know is needing. And especially if you’ve got one holy mother of an axe to grind – he’ll make all that disappear, or at least seem to…

Yeah, I know. It probably seems like…if I had a tail it would be wagging. But I don’t. Have a tail. It’s just all about Craig. He brings out the “tail-wag” in people – so, you want to give him your best enthusiasm; your best excitement. Your best effort. He’s someone who just makes you want to do better when he’s around. We need more folks like him, we really do…

Cheers to them all, though, these committed teachers. Masters of their trade. The game-changers. Honor with me, these revolutionary, extraordinary and legendary educators – as they build the future now!!! Good on ya, All!! Cheers! To your good health!!!


Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). Middle school teachers: Occupational outlook handbook. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Back to school statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372.

Shape of the Nation (2016). Status of physical education in the USA. SHAPE America: Society of health and physical educators. Retrieved from: https://www.shapeamerica.org/uploads/pdfs/ son/Shape-of-the-Nation-2016_web.pdf.

By Dr. Rodney J. Blackman

Dr. Rodney J. Blackman is the Chair of Recreation Management at the United States Sports Academy, and can be reached at rblackman@ussa.edu.


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