Recently we had an event for the launch of Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel at Marist College Ashgrove.
This is the school I attended from Grade 4 to Grade 12, where I returned as a Teacher in 1995 and from where I resigned at the end of the first semester in 2000 to follow my dream of being a writer.
It is also the school that St Daniels College in the Ishmael series is very much based on.
In a previous blog I wrote about how magical things can happen in schools and gave an example from an all Girls’ school that I taught at. Here’s another example of a magic school moment, this time from Marist Ashgrove.
One year the Marist School Captain was a boy from Papua New Guinea. His name was Peter. He was a lovely young man – a conscientious student and a top sportsman who was hugely popular with all the boys and teachers. (In Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel I included a boarder from Papua New Guinea in the story as a bit of a tribute to all the great PNG boys I’d taught at Marist.)
At the same time when Peter was School Captain, there was a boy in Year 8 who was in a wheel chair. I didn’t teach him so I don’t recall his name or the particulars of his condition. I’ll call him David.
You would be hard pressed to find two boys who were more polar opposites, at least physically. Peter was strong and powerful, a top athlete and from memory a member of at least the Rugby and Volleyball First teams and probably others. David was small, blonde, thin, pale-skinned and mostly confined to his wheelchair.
Peter and that Year 8 boy will always be tied together in my mind because of the school swimming carnival that year.
On the day, David was down to swim in the lowest division of the Under 13s. Because many of the boys in that race were weak swimmers and might not be able to make the 50 metres, seniors students were on the side of the pool or in the water to watch out for them. Peter the School Captain was in the pool shadowing David’s lane.
When the race started, David began agonizingly edging his way with laboured strokes through the water. His legs were of little help to him. Each slow, slap of an arm against the surface of the water and each gasp of breath, seemed like it might be his final one. But somehow David struggled to the end. He was the last to finish by a long, long way, but he was cheered raucously home with every stroke. Boys recognise courage when they see it.
When a totally exhausted David made the wall, Peter lifted him from the pool, carried him in his arms, and paraded him around the pool as the rest of the school gave him a standing ovation.
That image will be forever burnt in to my memory – David’s pale skin against Peter’s dark skin; his thin, weakened body, cradled in Peter’s strong, protective arms. The only thing it seemed Peter and David shared in common, was the big smile on each of their faces.
I can tell you that even the hardest of hard-nosed Marist teachers were choking back the tears that day.
One of things I wanted to show in writing the Ishmael series, was that even though boys can be rough and crude and insensitive at times, they also have a wonderful capacity to be heroic and beautiful.
For a while I even thought about putting a scene based closely on what happened at the swimming carnival that day into Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel. In the end I decided against it. I figured it would come across as too contrived and far too sentimental.
After all, corny stuff like that doesn’t actually happen in real life, does it?