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In linguistics, basketball receives a modicum of attention, but Dr. Thaddeus Q. Snarf thought this story of an inept coach would get people thinking about the strange words that coaches use.
In 1947, The U.S. Army generals decided officers could bring their families to defeated Germany, and the occupation troops would be happier.
As a result, Riley, Jerry Tinker, Slim Jim, and Maxie found themselves enrolled in Nürnberg American High School in Germany. They rejoiced when the generals said the high schools could have basketball teams and play other American schools. But Nürnberg had no coach. The Navy was happy to oblige with Watkins, a physical fitness instructor.
Coach Watkins introduced himself to the quartet on the first day of school. In the gym he stood, hands on his hips. “Listen up. This class only meets three times a week, not enough for you out-of-shape civilians, but if you wanna play basketball, come to the gym after school. That’s what I proscribe and strongly advocate.”
Then Watkins said, “Listen up! Drop to the floor, you flabby fakers. I want to oversee 20 pushups.” Coach Watkins had begun the daily physical fitness drills. Last was his favorite drill, the squats. Abruptly Watkins stopped and said to Maxie, “You, Fatty, look at that guy over there,” pointing at Riley. “He’s Atlas and you are Sisyphus. And he stomped out of the gym.
The next day, Watkins began practice with a short speech. “Okay, now listen up. Let’s decide today to go from inept players to ept players. You must get physically shapely. Basketball is primarily a game of endurance and . . .”
“Skill?” someone muttered.
Watkins snapped, “Okay, Big Mouth, mouth off again, and you’ll be circumnavigating the gym. I’m really gruntled by your attitude, but luckily, I believe Army Brats are corrigible. I demand a ruly practice. So hit the floor!”
After repeating the drills, Watkins deigned to enable the players to touch a basketball. “This is a passing drill. Form a circle. Be devious. Look port and pass starboard. Anyone who drops a pass or throws a wild one must circumnavigate the gym.
At the third practice, Watkins said, “Today I am proscribing a circumnavigation of the school yard. To make sure everyone depreciates this gainly task and don’t dawdle on their behind-the-school-building part of this marathong, you’ll run in groups of five. The first one back gets A, the second B, the third C, the fourth D and fifth F.”
That night, Riley, who had been elected team captain, called for a huddle to discuss the inept coach. Maxie spoke first, “I don’t believe the language he uses! I don’t know what he’s saying – port and starboard, he wants to make us ept players, and he says I’m fat and a Sisyphus. What’s a Sisyphus?”
Trying to keep control, Riley said, “I don’t know about Sisyphus, but Atlas was the Greek god who held up the world on his shoulders.
“Naw, you got it wrong, Riley,” said Maxie. “He was talking about Charles Atlas. He says don’t let anyone throw sand on you at the beach. Take my body building course and the girls will love you.”
Slim Jim stepped in. “Watkins likes squats. I’d say Squat Watkins is a good name for him because he needs body building himself.””
Then Jerry summoned action: “I propose the Tinker Trick to thwart Fat Watkins’ discriminatory grading practice. When every group of five comes in tomorrow, all five should cross the finish line at the same time, everyone gets A.”
Read the tragic conclusion in next week’s column.
Bob McQuitty is a professor emeritus from NSU with an interest in the American language.