Norman was a tall, soft-spoken, lanky, freckled-faced kid.
I never knew Norman had a problem until Mr. Bell asked us to swap papers and I graded Norman’s pop quiz. I was shocked. Norman’s quiz was a mess of wrong answers shot through with grammatical and spelling errors.
I was a just kid and had no clue about learning disabilities. I had my own trouble with jumbling letters when reading and writing, and believed with more practice, I would fix the problem. And I thought the same about Norman’s problem too.
I knew Norman from playing sports.
Even though our teachers and principal forbade us, we played tackle football without pads and helmets in the morning, at lunch, at recess, and afternoons while waiting for the bus. And while Norman was a god kid, teams would choose other kids before him.
One day during Phys Ed, our coach decided he would pit the eighth graders against the sixth and seventh graders in a game of softball. And to ensure fairness, he would pitch and hit for the lower-classman. Our coach was an ass.
The stakes were one hundred pushups for the losers.
Norman and I played outfield for our team of upper classmen. We put Norman in right field. And whenever a lefty came to bat, I would shade into right field. For eight innings, I caught the one fly ball sent Norman’s way. None of us trusted Norman to make a play with one hundred pushups on the line. And our strategy worked until the top of the 9thinning.
With two outs and the tying run on second and winning run on first, coach came to bat. He was right-handed, but pushed the ball high into right field. I remember seeing the ball rocket high off the bat.
I thought our only hope of winning was sprinting deep into right field, one hopping the ball, and firing it over the cutoff man into home plate. It wasn’t going to be easy.
But as I sprinted towards right field, I decided to yell, “NOR—MAN! CATCH DAMN THE BALL!”
Norman had watched the ball come off the bat and soar through the air the whole time. He hunched over and awkwardly, shuffled forward. He stopped and stuck out his glove and caught the ball.
We had won.
Norman saved our ass from humiliation and one hundred pushups.
I was the first one there and gave him a bear hug. Every member of our team ran out to right field and mobbed him.
He had no idea how to handle the all the attention. And I felt ashamed for doubting him.
Then we taunted the lowerclassmen as they struggled with their one hundred pushups.
When we entered high school, we went our separate ways. And while I saw Norman around, I had no idea how things went for him.
After high school, a bunch of went bowling one night and a friend told me how someone shot and killed Norman during a drug deal.
When I heard the news, sadly I thought not of his magnificent catch that day on the baseball field, but of his pop quiz I graded in history class. And I thought how his teachers, his family, and his friends failed him.
But today I thought of Norman Sutherland and I am happy to say that instead of remembering a stupid a pop quiz from history class, I remembered his heroics on the baseball field.
And now you know how Norman saved us from one hundred pushups one spring day.