Pointed moment: 40 years ago, student Richard Billger certified me as cool

January 8, 2021

Mainstreamed man - Most days are yesterday to me. I am in high school with my students, and before that, with my friends. A high school girl once said to me, “It must be weird for you; every year kids stay the same age as you get a year older.” Yet this older guy easily time travels. I can go back decades to a place that I left. I see the students and they do stay the same age – they are forever young. I read of the passing of Richard Billger, Cape Class of 1980, at the age of 59 (see obit). Richard, a brilliant, curly-headed athletic kid who played soccer and tennis, needed no certification from teacher types. He knew who he was, and beyond that, he knew who you were. I was a special education teacher in 1980, a relatively new guy to Cape. I mainstreamed my students, ran a resource room, and looked out for them. They had no reason not to love me, so they did. But I asked the administration to mainstream me – just one academic class – and they set it up. I walked into a social studies class on the second floor and all the students thought it was a joke. I was the special ed track coach guy, so how could I possibly hang with the intellectually gifted? Right up front sitting in the center of the room was curly-headed Richard Billger just daring me to win him over. He had caused quite a stir among some staff for refusing induction into the National Honor Society. He just didn't like the idea of being considered honorable because he was smart. Richard liked me because I was clever and different, offbeat and witty. The class was Problems of Democracy, and he was passionate about politics. Once I won him over, the rest of the class fell into line. The idea was innovative: to mainstream the mainstreaming teacher. But I’ll tell you, if you can tell good stories and make them relatable, you’ll always have kids across the spectrum at your classroom door. Richard and his sisters Corrine and Nancy and brother Hans were all great Cape athletes and teammates. Joe and Georgia were great parents. I mainstreamed myself back to Richard’s senior year in high school. He represents a pointed moment in my life. I remember him giving me a chance; actually, I can’t remember what I never forgot. 

Calendar girl - My daughter Carrie was 5 years old, waiting for her mother to pick her up from kindergarten at the Dupont Avenue school when she said to her teacher Anna Jane Mercer,  “Miss Mercer, my brother Dave got run over by a bulldozer.” “That’s awful, Carrie. When did that happen?” “I don’t know. Let me see a calendar.” When my wife arrived to collect Carrie, concerned paraprofessional Sherry Mitchell asked, “How’s Dave doing? Carrie told us what happened.” Of course, there had been no disaster. Carrie always liked a good story and the calendar was a handy prop. The calendar for winter/indoor sports starts with competition Tuesday, Jan. 12. The Cape boys’ basketball team will play at Sussex Tech at 4:30 p.m.; then the gym will be cleared before the varsity girls play at 7 p.m. No visiting spectators are allowed, so bring a mop and impersonate a substitute custodian. Some games will be livestreamed by the NFHS network, which requires a $70 yearly subscription. Cape wrestling will host Sussex Central at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 13. That match will be livestreamed. That reminds me of Wednesday night fights in black and white sponsored by Gillette razors. Cape swimming will compete against Polytech at 6 p.m., Friday, Jan.15, at the Sussex Academy pool. Cape has eight home meets, courtesy of Sussex Academy. My best advice to keep up to date is to use, click on your school banner, then click calendar. “Say, buddy, where’s your mask?” “Mask? We don’t need no stinking masks!” Actually, all competitors except swimmers – the virus can’t swim or live in chlorinated water – must compete wearing a mask to control the spread of COVID. 

Land of the Lost - I read every newspaper online from coast to coast until they ask me to climb the paywall. I’ve read hundreds of stories by people who have lost a part of themselves during the pandemic, which always brings me back to myself. My wonderful life as a photojournalist and grandfather of athletes has taken a hit, and I just joke, “Fredpop don’t get no redshirt!” I have the luxury of having no responsibility for the athletes I cover, but I do wish DPH and other agencies would find other less-fit people to dog. 

Thanks but no tanks - The Eagles’ management team tanked the game against the Giants in the fourth quarter last Sunday night to move up three places in the draft. I believe they will draft Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the sixth pick and will jettison loyalist Zach Ertz. Reacting like a fan and native Philadelphian, I didn’t like the move. You know, like the song which I hate, “I’ve been waiting all day for Sunday night,” then we got a preseason game. It was just lame. 

Snippets - Spent two hours Wednesday afternoon matside taking photos of a Cape wrestling intrasquad scrimmage. I saw girls’ basketball practice ending, then boys’ basketball beginning. There was chaos in the U.S. Capitol just two hours away, but on Planet Cape, it was all good. Go on now, git! 




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