Reflection: Follow Me, by Rob Erdeljac
by Robert Erdeljac
October 3, 2017
For as long as I can remember, I have had my students write as part of their nine-week grade. Writing across the curriculum was a district goal, and I welcomed it as such. While I saw value in the more traditional methods of testing student knowledge, writing became fun and provided students with an opportunity to express the significance they discovered within the historical figures and events of their study. Multiple choice questions were dry and often ambiguous, unless you authored the text and tests. Fortunately, students conformed nicely to the rigors of writing, and many told me so, even before they graduated high school.
I worked to inspire them to write with significant quotations like the following two:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed” Earnest Hemingway
“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.” Francis Bacon
Oh, there were other quotations offered to the students throughout the year to inspire and continue to inspire. Each quotation appeared to open another interest into the world of written expression. I understood that the task of lighting that fire to write belonged primarily in the Language Arts and English Departments, but as their history teacher, I enjoyed my small role in this aspect of a student’s education and the satisfaction of the district’s goal.
If I peeked into my old briefcase, and boxes of resource materials I have saved since retirement in 2010, I might come across my final October 19 lesson plan. The lesson grew to its heights some fifteen to eighteen years earlier when my confidence in teaching “outside the box” blossomed.
Idealistically, every year, on that very day, the nineteenth of October, I shared with my students what is considered by many to be the most prestigious piece of literature in the history of sports. Here, in the middle of football season with our high school Knights always performing well, I found the precise day to surprise my students, settled in their seats, with my unusual recitation:
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.
A cyclone can’t be snared. It may be surrounded, but somewhere it breaks through to keep on going. When the cyclone starts from South Bend, where the candle lights still gleam through the Indiana sycamores, those in the way must take to storm cellars at top speed. Yesterday the cyclone struck again, as Notre Dame beat the Army, 13 to 7, with a set of backfield stars that ripped and crashed through a strong Army defense with more speed and power than the warring cadets could meet.
Their wonder was piqued, but they were not surprised with my anticipatory set opening. I enjoyed creating that wonder which enabled students to look forward to our daily class.
Following the verse, with student’s wide-open eyes upon me, I spoke of the game played between the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the Cadets of Army at the Polo Grounds in New York, and the times—1924, the “Roaring Twenties.” Following that brief lesson, I detailed the author of the expression, Grantland Rice’s career as a sportswriter, known for his eloquent prose. I spoke of the competitiveness of sportswriters during this New York newspaper war, and other sportswriters’ writing about Illinois’s elusive red-haired boy, Harold “Red” Grange, and the huge Harvard victory over Holy Cross, 12 – 6. Rice received front-page play for his efforts in the Herald Tribune, the newspaper which received no less than nine Pulitzer Prizes during its lifetime; page one, column one. His article was also syndicated by over one hundred newspapers nationwide with a million readers.
Next, I distributed to each student a brilliant copy of the entire article for their enrichment. Most read the entire article outside of class, even though it was not a required read. Their interest and self-discipline made them crave more details of the epic gridiron contest.
Then came the bombshell. I asked my students to “follow me.” We proceeded outside for the final fifteen minutes of the class period, and together we enjoyed the blue-gray October sky of Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, and we enjoyed each other’s company beneath that sky. The sky, the fresh air, and the freedom to enjoy both during class time was a gift of motivation that served many during their late night or Saturday morning writing assignments. Perhaps the trifecta provided motivation to complete those calculus problems or that novel, too.
October is a beautiful month here in Western Pennsylvania. I always enjoy the wind, moderate temperatures, “harvest moon,” leaves changing colors, and other elements of the season. In addition to the Clarion Autumn Leaf Festival and the Golden Eagle’s homecoming, yearly I anticipate the nineteenth of this tenth month with fond memories of working with the beautiful students, and alongside the very professional teaching staff at Knoch High School of South Butler County School District.
As the nineteenth of October 2017 rapidly approaches, I will create a greeting card in memory of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, and Grantland Rice’s article which I used to motivate so many students. I will send this special greeting to loved ones, wishing them a beautiful “blue-gray October sky,” and a completely successful autumn.
A large part of me hopes that my former students look up occasionally, and enjoy this October blue-gray sky, wherever they are.
Thank you for reading my “Reflection.” Should you want a Grantland Rice card from me, “like” this “post” and include your mailing address by October 15, 2017. We can enjoy the blue-gray October sky together.
CARRY ON !
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The Oakmont Historical Society is dedicated to preserving the history of Oakmont, Pennsylvania. We are located at 628 Allegheny River Blvd. Oakmont, PA 15139. Our Curator/Archivist, Colleen McGuigan may be reached at: (412) 828-3022, (412) 607-4782, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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