I am a softie for the underdog. How about you?
On our elementary playground, my friends and I would yell at some rogue boys we didn’t like. They wanted us to feel like the underdog. “Sticks and stones may break my bones,” we shouted, “but words will never hurt me.” Where did we learn that catchy little lie?
Let’s face it. Some harsh, cruel words do hurt. We may act like brutish words do not twist and crush away at how we esteem ourselves. And how we fit in. But down inside our mind and heart, negative words sting.
Last year I met with members of the all-black Brown Bombers baseball team who played in the 1940s and 1950s. Again and again, they confronted the taunting and callous mistreatment of opponents and everyday citizens. But these athletes never let the verbal sticks and stones stop them from taking the high road and stepping up to the plate.
Waiting by Connie
I wish I had played with the Bombers in my junior-high years. I know they would have taught me how to let insults glide off me like a foul ball to the stands. You see, I was often picked as the first girl for our co-ed softball games. My nearly five-foot-ten-inch frame sported some two hundred pounds. I had the heft to knock those knuckle balls well past the outfielders. Running around the bases after my slammers was another story. I wish we had thought of pinch runners back then.
Yet my RBI stats were not my greatest achievement from those middle-school softball games. Instead, I learned something no rousing coach or celebrated major leaguer could pass on.
As the boys directed the choosing of teammates, I typically stood waiting by Connie, a willowy seventh grader. Connie was not just thin, she was at least a foot shorter and probably 125 pounds lighter than me. Cystic fibrosis harnessed Connie with an ultra-slim physique, but her debilitating lung disease could never render her a lightweight in character and determination.
Appreciating the Underdog
Even though Connie had little strength to even pick up a bat, let alone swing and run, she still lined up with the rest of us to be assigned a team in any sport we played. When we played kickball, I always stood side by side with Connie. We both were always two of the last players selected. While the other twenty or so classmates heard their name called, Connie and I waited on the sidelines.
You see, while I could wham a softball for homeruns, my ball and chain of excess poundage did not make me a desirable teammate for quick-dart, run-fast games. Instead of being a first-round pick in middle-school softball, I slumped to the bottom of the draft in kickball.
But you know what? The highs and lows of childhood athletics engrained in me an appreciation for the underdog. I also developed a sensitivity to walking in the Converse® tennis shoes of another. Connie and I bonded over our pre-game drills of being overlooked for the team or picked dead last.
Holding Our Heads High
Connie and I never talked about how our polar opposite sizes might make us feel less than or an object of teasing. Kickball game after kickball game, as we lingered the longest to hear our names called, we just stretched our backbones and held our heads high, her blonde locks reaching somewhere near my armpit.
The Brown Bombers garnered disrespect for the color of their skin. Until I lost over seventy pounds in high school, I garnered disrespect for having too much padding under my skin.
People and our judgmental culture in general can hurl mean sticks and stones, and it’s why I appreciate uplifting words like, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10, NIV). Loving and honoring other individuals above ourselves takes a lot more finesse and class than slugging a softball over the back fence. Or waiting to be chosen for kickball.
I totally understand about your relationship with Connie. She was my best friend and I fondly recall her being there when I needed someone to talk to. We rode the bus and sat together for years. She and I were last ones picked in our class for p.e. also!! She was a warrior in her struggle with Cystic Fibrosis. It was humbling to go to her house and see all the medical equipment there and what she went through daily to keep her lungs clear. I love rooting for the underdog!!
Carol, thank you for sharing more about Connie and your sweet friendship with her. She is truly a hero of tenacity and gracefulness. I did not know her as well as you, but I never heard her grumble or feel sorry for herself. I remember the day in high school volleyball when she served the ball over the net for the first time. I think we all broke out into huge applause. Thank you for loving Connie well. And thank you for rooting for the underdog.
I would be that about 95% of the people in these lines all had the same feelings, anxiety and thoughts!
You maybe right, Sara. I hope kids are choosing teams a little differently these days.
Reminds me how we all feel like the underdog sooner or later! Great memories, Beth.
You are right, Nancy. I think that the majority of us have felt like the underdog at some point in life. It’s encouraging to know that none of us is perfect and we can rise above our circumstances and enjoy
other dimensions to our lives.
As always, I enjoyed your article. It is so full of insight and thoughtfulness. Connie was indeed a warrior. Her older brother Dennis was in my class. I remember when he found out that Connie had cystic fibrosis. It was devastating! And I think if their dear Mother. She buried two of her three children plus her husband. No mother should ever have to do that. Oh, the memories this article has stirred. And they remained faithful to their God through it all.
Carla, thank you for sharing more about Connie and her family. Bless her dear mama, indeed. I’m sure you and other classmates were a great support for Dennis. Because of what doctors learned about CF decades ago, many CF patients are living long, full lives today. Connie was definitely a warrior who leaves a far-reaching legacy.
What’ve always been one to go with the underdog. Never undergo the underdog we’re words I said often in life. Like your friend Connie, they are the ones who have probably overcome things many would struggle with. I like to think I would be standing next to you both. Or in the middle to be the second rung in that height ladder. ????
Shelly, I appreciate you sharing the “never undergo the underdog” encouragement. I am not familiar with that one, but I sure like it. We would have had a blast if you had joined us, Shelly. I’m honored to count Connie and you as incredible friends.