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Chiggy and the New Kid

Boys soccer team doing a high-five together before a game

For whatever reason, this week’s readings don’t resonate much with me – so instead of considering them directly, I ask you to indulge a little story instead.

Early in my first-grade year, while playing a football-related, pass-catching game invented by Charles “Chiggy” Rhodes, the young coach for the small Trinity Episcopal School in New Orleans, I somehow landed awkwardly and dislocated my hip. Apparently I was all bent into some gruesome position. Coach Rhodes lifted me up, carried me across the street that separated the field from the rest of the school, and into the school office where arrangements could be made to take me to the hospital.

I ended up in a body cast for several weeks, all the way up to my chest – and then was wheelchair-bound for a few more weeks, gradually building up to using crutches and then, finally, walking again on my own.

But as soon as I did return to school in my wheelchair, every single day when it was time for Physical-Ed period, Coach Rhodes would come to my first grade classroom and personally wheel me out to the field so I could at least watch as he taught the rest of the kids the then-new game called soccer. The first day he did so, when he deposited me on the sideline he announced to everybody else that he wanted them to introduce them to a “new kid” (me) and make me feel at home.

Of course the joke was that I wasn’t new, but had just been away for several weeks, and everybody laughed. But from then on, for Coach Rhodes (and Coach Rhodes only) my nickname was “New Kid.” When I was able to walk but not yet run, he said: “New Kid, get in the goal: You may not be able to run down the field, but you can play goalie and lunge at the ball to stop it.”

When I was back full strength, Coach would always put me in the middle of the action. I was the smallest kid in the class, but he’d say: “Hey, New Kid, show’em how it’s done.”

Chiggy Rhodes was for years the only coach for all the boys from first grade all the way through eighth. He taught us just about every sport under the sun, and always made it fun. We played no interscholastic sports when he arrived at Trinity, but he eventually got us into leagues against other schools in basketball, soccer, and baseball – and we did pretty darn well.

The girls eventually got their own coach, Ms. Barr; and then another coach, Elsa Claverie, came on to assist both Coach Rhodes and Coach Barr in any way she could.