Were you a joiner or non-joiner in school?

Rick Wagner • Jun 30, 2018 at 4:30 PM

If there are two types of students in elementary through high school, joiners and doers versus non-joiners and non-doers, I was a joiner and doer for sure.

When I was in elementary school, I joined the Cub Scouts and 4-H Club. Granted, everybody pretty much was in 4-H in fourth and fifth grades at Surgoinsville Elementary, but I later started with the project of small engines, the kind in lawnmowers, and eventually became part of a soil judging team in later grades. I also played Groucho Marx in the Hawkins County 4-H Share the Fun in sixth grade, and we made the countywide competition, although I never aspired to become an actor or comedian. In high school, I went into automotive and driving. I once told my parents I wanted to be a mechanic, but never a professional dirt judge.

Meanwhile, we got to be in high school band in eighth grade, and our trip was to Florida, where we marched at Disney World. In ninth grade, we got to go to San Antonio, Texas. Well, we didn’t really “get” to go. We raised money for both trips, particularly the Texas one. I also spent a lot of hot summer days marching on the band practice field and cold days parade marching in a parking lot. 

In high school 4-H, I entered an essay contest and won, getting recognition as the winner in Nashville on stage from Tennessee Ernie Ford. In band, I performed on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, the new venue that has a section of flooring from the old Ryman Auditorium. I took other 4-H trips and in high school attended the annual 4-H Roundup in Knoxville, but I never won state to make the national trip to Chicago.


With all the talk about the Kingsport and Sullivan County school systems making students subject to random drug tests if they are in selected voluntary extracurricular activities, those for which they don’t get a grade, I started thinking about all my extracurricular and cocurricular ones, which were after school and during school combined.  

In late elementary school, I joined a school football team, but I decided it wasn’t for me in less than a week. Fast-forward a bit and I decided to try out for the basketball B team, the scrub squad, as a freshman. I’d had physical education but no real playing experience. I got cut and made assistant manager, but not before somehow scoring two points in a scrimmage. (I was there when my older son years later scored two points in an Upward Bound game.) 

My sophomore year, I tried again — and again got cut but made assistant manager. I was really trying to impress a girls basketball team player, but that part didn’t work out, either. However, I got grades for it all. At that time, we got a high school physical education grade for being in sports (or a manager) just like we did in band, so unlike today’s world where sports is extracurricular, it was cocurricular. Athletes wouldn’t have been subject to random drug testing if it existed then.

My junior year, 1980, we consolidated from Surgoinsville High, which was a grades 7-12 school, to Volunteer High, joining up with Church Hill High students. I stayed in band, joined the Beta Club and National Honor Society and entered an essay contest in 1981 in which I was one of six Volunteer juniors who won a free trip to Washington, D.C., from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. 

And as a college freshman, I participated in the national 4-H driving competition in Richmond, Va., as the Tennessee 4-H driving champion in 1982, although I didn’t come close to winning because I didn’t come close enough to the curb while parallel parking an unreasonably wide car with which I never had practiced. 

The point is I never did much bad in school but stayed busy with extra- and cocurricular activities. The more you do that, probably the less likely you are to be involved in something that would lead to flunking a random drug test. My advice to students? Find extra- and cocurricular and other activities you’d like to try and do them, even though some probably won’t work out.

TRUE OR FALSE: The writer of this column was Tennessee’s 1982 4-H automotive driving champion and used to judge soil.

Rick Wagner covers education for the Times News.

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