Thursday, July 30, 2015

Remembering Mr Witowski . . . Or How I Learned The Art Of Bowling

Remembering Mr Witowski . . . Or How I Learned The Art Of Bowling

Thaddeus Edward "Ted" Witowski passed away on September 9, 2014. You can read more about him in his obit at The Winnipeg Free Press.

Mr Witowski was my Grade 9 French teacher in a suburban school in Winnipeg. He was undoubtedly the most feared teacher in the building, big in stature, with a bloodcurdling voice, and a maniacal look in his eyes. He ran his classroom with an iron fist. There was no time for any kind of frivolity or “goofing off.” Every minute of every class was intense. You were either listening to him or studying silently at your desk.

Those days, I had a giant chip on my shoulder. The counselors would always tell my mother that I was too smart too fast, and so I guess I acted out because I was bored with the mediocre information that schools would provide. I was the bad boy in the back row, and thank goodness, I have never had to go through a twelve-step program because there would be far too many teachers who would deserve my apology for being an ass in class.

As bad as I was, I never challenged Mr Witowski or stepped outside his rules. I suppose there were some kids who did, but I never saw it happen, and I still can't imagine anyone living to tell about it.

The strange thing about Mr Witowski was that he ran the bowling club in the school. At the time, this seemed a bit out of character to me. Bowling was for the gentler set, and I couldn't imagine him spinning a large black ball down the alley at a set of white pins. If anything, I saw him as more likely under the hood of a ’55 Chevy every night — busting his knuckles on the intake manifold.

How I ended up being a part of Mr Witowski’s bowling club has always been a mystery to me, but I still remember following him to the local bowling alley every Tuesday after classes were done for the day. I wasn't a good bowler. I can't say I even liked bowling, but that didn't matter. I went to see him bowl. I wanted to see the other side of his armour. I wanted to see if he was softer outside the classroom. He wasn't.

The last I saw of Mr Witowski was at an end-of-year awards ceremony. He presented me with a small trophy for being the "most improved player" in the bowling club. I remember walking onto the stage and shaking his thick, oil-stained hand. Under the polite applause of the student body, he said to me, "Congratulations, but remember ... the idea is to knock down every pin."

With those words, I'm not sure Mr Witowski meant to offer me anything more than a final lesson in the art of bowling. All I know is that his words have stayed with me for a lifetime, and anyone, who really knows me, will tell you that this surly, burly French teacher defined a path in life for me like no one else had ever done before or ever would again.

You see it's not always good enough to "do your best" or "give it your best shot." At some point in life, such aphorisms simply become excuses for failure. You can't always rely on "doing your best" if your "best" simply is never good enough. At some point, you have to succeed. At some point, your "best" has to actually be the best. At some point, you have to roll the ball down the alley and knock down every pin.



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