It was grade eight and I was the class scapegoat. People have been
scapegoats for any number of reasons; for me it was that I was new to
the school and very naive. I was brainy, much too trusting, bad at
sports, didn't care about wearing the latest styles and couldn't afford
them even if I had. Quite simply, I didn't know how to be cool.
The only kids who were nice to me were so just because they wanted
something. In one case, it was a science project in which I did all the
work and my partner shared in the good grade. It was a miserable year.
It was Winter in Regina, Sask., Canada, and gym was held inside. The
class was playing basketball and I played it as poorly as I did any
other sport. I didn't know the rules and nobody explained them. If I
somehow managed to get my hands on the ball, inevitably the referee
would call "Travelling!" Then the ball would go to the other team,
though I didn't know what I had done wrong.
I liked sports, even though I wasn't good at them, so I'd eagerly
run up and down the court with my team. By doing this one day I found
myself at the other team's basket, across the hoop from my teammate,
the class jock, Kelly Serge.
Kelly and I hadn't held a single conversation the whole year. The
class jock would have had no reason to talk to the class scapegoat. I
never imagined he was any different from the kids who had been
humiliating me all year. So I stood waiting for him to make the easy
He didn't. Instead, he tossed the ball to me.
I caught it -- stunned. Then I got myself together and willed myself
to make the basket. I threw the ball. Too high. Kelly caught it on the
other side. I was so disappointed, but I waited for him to make the
shot. The class looked on as he again tossed the ball to me.
I couldn't believe it. True, he didn't need to prove his skill, but
he'd know that being nice to me wouldn't increase his popularity. I
determined to do better this time. I eyed the basket, felt the ball in
my hands, and sent it up. It went in. Kelly grabbed the ball under the
basket, gave me a grin of approval and threw the ball back into play.
It was such a little thing. Kelly gave me two chances to make a basket
when he could've easily gotten the points himself. He risked
embarrassing himself and losing the game. For me, a lonely 13-year-old,
it was everything.
Kelly and I never became friends, but now, 19 years later, I still
wish I could tell him: "Kelly, from the bottom of my heart, thanks."