First of all, I must say that the shirt is in pretty good condition after nearly 4 decades! It's a blue Adidas shirt with three white stripes down each arm. I probably only wore the shirt a couple dozen times before it got pushed to the back of my dresser -- but somehow it always managed to make it into a moving box as I relocated here and there throughout the years.
At the start of my 10th grade year in August 1980, I joined the high school cross country running team. I had a good season running with the varsity squad and "lettered" -- earning another running pin to my high school letter jacket. Immediately after the cross country season, I was invited to pledge to our high school's Lettermans' Club. The club was for those who earned a varsity high school letter and wanted to join other letterman in promoting the school and (supposedly) be role models. However, getting in the club was actually an experience I'll never forget.
Back in 1980, the high school I attended allowed the seniors to control the "initiation" process into Lettermans' Club. I'm sure that many of the tactics that they employed back then would result in suspensions if done in today's academic world. The instructions I was given by the senior Lettermen were clear: Show up at the school Monday morning at 6:30 A.M. to begin a day of "initiation." That was it! I remember showing up at the crack of dawn one late October day at my Alaska high school along with 6 other brave guys willing to do what was necessary to get into the club. Girls were also allowed to go through initiation, but they were separate from the guys.
I recall standing shoulder to shoulder with other wide-eyed guys facing the senior Letterman on a sidewalk next to the school... in the dark... seeing nothing more than the cold fog from each breath we let out. The first challenge was to run around the entire school as fast as possible. The first one to complete the challenge wouldn't have to do the next challenge. Suffice it to say, I wasn't going to lose -- and I didn't. By doing so, I didn't have to get a candy bar out of the toilet with only my mouth! Yes, that was the sort of thing that went on!
We were then brought inside and taken to the boys' locker room, where we had to strip down to nothing but our underwear. We were given girl dresses to put on (mine was pink with a white lace around the collar) and were instructed to wear them all day until school was dismissed at 3:00 PM. If we took our dress off, we were eliminated from consideration for Letterman's Club. I put the dress on and then felt a slap to the top of my head from behind. One of the seniors had slapped grease on my head and I was told to keep it on all day... under a little plastic red fireman's hat, which clashed badly with my pink dress. I recall having to cross my legs in class the entire day, and the amount of whistles and teasing I endured for the next 8 hours was terrible. Regardless, I wore the dress and fireman's hat all day.
We were told that whenever a Lettermans' Club senior told you to do something in between classes, we were to do it or be eliminated. One of my most embarrassing moments came when a senior put a roll of toilet paper on the crowded hallway floor and told me to roll it up a ramp -- while on my hands and knees -- using only my nose. Of course, in my pink dress and fireman's hat, it wasn't easy, and my backside was exposed several times as my dress was lifted up by others. However, I managed to accomplish the challenge... but definitely lost dignity in the process!
There were other challenges that we had to do, some before school and some after. For instance, when we were told to undress before being given our girl dresses to put on, we were blindfolded temporarily -- which was just long enough for the senior Letterman to bring some girls into the locker room to see us standing there in just our underwear. Again, if some of their actions were done today, they would likely be suspended or expelled. We had to do a naked obstacle course, or sorts, in the locker room and other embarrassing tasks. Regardless, I endured the entire day and was given the shirt that I've had for almost 40 years.
Every time I look at the shirt I remember what I endured to get it... the humiliation, the teasing, the downright juvenile and idiotic treatment. It was as though I willingly accepted being bullied just to get into a club of morons. I guess the shirt is a reminder to me that a person should never put aside their principles or shelve their self respect for the mere amusement of others and a chance to join a club. At the end of the school day I handed the senior Lettermen the pink dress with one hand and took the blue Adidas shirt with my other hand. The shirt meant that I was in the club, and I took it home.
It was then that my father announced, to my great surprise, that our family would be moving out of town within the month. All that I had endured was for nothing. However, the humiliating experience did instill in me a deep conviction to never again compromise my principles or self respect. It was my first and last initiation experience!
Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,