Growing up many of us have spent time idolizing a certain hero. Perhaps it was a sports figure. An actor. Hell even a neighbor. In my case — and in the case of many a sexually confused young teenager— I had a fascination with my junior high school gym teacher. Mr. Maggio. The guy knew how to make a great first impression. He was exciting. Animated. Related to all students. Plus he had that Italian swagger I was raised to admire. Toss in a rough, masculine — not quite handsome face — that topped of the muscled body you’d expect from a freshly minted teacher.
Maggio had arms that likely were as big as some 7th graders waists. You could land a jet on his shoulders and his pecs defied the cotton fabric of this one size too small t shirt. He embodied the jock. Toss in that he was probably just slightly taller than the average kid in junior high and he related well to us. He was one of those gym teachers who coaxed the athlete out and any kid and nurtured the jocks to perform at their best. We loved him. Admire him. And idolized him.
The funny thing about my junior high was, that by the time spring rolled around; it was less about learning and more about having fun. Assemblies were big and student/teacher activities exploded. We did everything from student teacher basketball games to teacher talent shows. Pretty much anyway that we could forgo the tedious classroom stuff— we were down.
Mr. Maggio of course lead the pack for coming up with creative ideas. His talent of pull-ups at the teacher talent show proved his biceps weren’t for show. That year our junior high wrestling team placed first in regional competitions. (I was a proud member of that team and in my second year of participating. Unlike my first year, I was winning.) To celebrate this accomplishment Mr Maggio challenged the wrestling coach to a match. It was part of a sports assembly that included free throws, crab soccer and other gym class activities.
My wrestling coach was a good guy. Fit. Athletic and also a gym teacher at the school. But he wasn’t Mr. Maggio. Mr Carson had more of a nerdy vibe. Thick glasses. A suburban soccer dad body fueled by the basic fitness routine and flavorless meatloaf. Sure he was the wrestling coach, but even though he and Maggio were basically the same weight; nothing about them compared. Maggio had biceps that bulged, pecs that bounced and legs that looked like they could withstand a hurricane. Carson looked like the standard issue gym teacher that could climb the rope in under 3 minutes. And then painstaking tell you every inch of the climb. And nothing would bulge or flex even after that exertion. Nothing.
I wasn’t the only one riveted to this contest. A lot of the school showed up and paid attention to this one. Maggio stepped on to the mat first in his navy blue gym teacher shorts and gray “Navy” tank top. As if he needed to accentuate this shoulder or arms. The dude was focused and menacing to those of us who idolized him. (98% of the student body) Carson came out in those same circa 1975 gym teacher shorts in black. He opted for the Hanes white t shirt he grabbed from his underwear drawer that morning. In sizing them up, few of us gave Carson a second look. Maggio, in his tank top showed off the arms I know was fascinated by. It was Superhero vs Clark Kent’s nerdier tutor.
One of my fellow students and a member of the wrestling team served as the referee. He blew the whistle and the match started. To no surprise, Maggio made the first more and dropped the coach to his back with a nicely executed double leg takedown. He maintained his aggressive approach but couldn’t successfully lock in any hold for long. Carson went on a solid defense and kept things even. The two stayed on each other and Maggio ended the period with a nice little lead. I was happy. And I got to see that muscle in action and control.
Round two started and Mr. Carson quickly erased Maggio’s lead and went on the offense. Muscle was being tossed all over that mat. Maggio would wiggle his way out of a hold only to be tossed back down. Again. And Again. And then yet again. Maggio never gave up... in my mind. But as round two rolled on, Carson went for the pin. He secured a half Nelson and used his nothing-more-than-average-shoulders to flatten the muscle bound shoulders of Maggio down. Watching him try to bridge out was a sight to behold. But all of that muscle was in control. The hero was defeated. Pinned. Flattened.
While Mr. Carson earned the respect, my memory was all about Mr. Maggio. The perfect specimen fell short. He lost. And worse yet got pinned. A part of him was diminished. Until he spoke. He admitted defeat. Joked about show muscles. And reminded us that we can’t win them all.
As I reflect back on this memory, I recall how I let my idolizing get the best of me. I saw my hero learn a lesson, but also learned that even the more impressive of us are gonna get our asses kicked from time to time. We pick ourselves up. Lick our wounds and figure out a way to win in the next round. That’s life. And during a pandemic it’s an important message to know.