A trip down memory lane: returning to my old school after 19 years

On this weekend just gone and having read details of a game of cricket celebrating 150 years of the school I decided to head up to my old school, Ipswich Grammar School for a look around and to watch some cricket. I had a dual motive of wanting to test out my new camera which was also a good enough reason to head “home” to Ipswich for the afternoon.

After a quick swing by the old school grounds I fast remembered that some years ago IGS had moved their playing fields to a purpose built facility a little away from the main school. What an impressive facility it is too: a far cry from the days when I was proud to don the red and white of my school in battle on the sporting field.

This is a not a blog post though that is either an advertisement for the school nor an exercise in “back in my day”. Rather I was so struck by the memories that flooded back during my trip to the school that I had cause to ponder not only the silliness of not having been back in so long but also the importance that any institution of education has on the development of young men between the ages of 13-18 and more to the point the teachers and mentors who form part of the faculty of said instituions.

Chatting to the coach of my 16B cricket team who is now the Sports Master and the coach of my 13A cricket team (and before that the Shell Shield U12 team I played in) now retired, who I am happy to say both remembered me, brought back memories of some of my happiest times: not just of my formative years but of my life.

Before I move on here I must declare that I was not one of the popular kids at school, I was not a sports star though I played in mostly A teams and I was not a genius though once I realised I just had to work harder than most to succeed my marks improved. I was just a run of the mill 13 to 17 year old growing up in a private school. I say this only to give context to remarks that follow and not in any way to colour your opinion of this post.

Some of the memories that came back to me put a smile on my face and others made me shake my either in bewilderment at why I had not seen any of the players in said memories for nearly 20 years or embarrassment at how generally awkward I was back then.

From my first interview as a knock kneed and very slight 11 year old with the old headmaster, Mr Ladley, through catching the train with my mates for the first time on day 2 of grade 8 through to becoming a school prefect (obviously not a popularity contest that race) and basically having to beg for a date to the school formal, I have come to realize on reflection that those experiences at school were experiences that led me to be the person that I have become.

Now there is obvious good in my experiences and how they moulded me because I have retained the hard working culture that the school expected of its students as well as my life long love of sport that grew from a slight crush in the beginnings of grade 8 to an all encompassing love affair by the end of grade 12 on the fields of IGS. The undefeated 16B cricket season of 1993 under the watchful eye of Mr Grieve made me realize how much I love winning whilst not making the A team that year taught me on the one hand not to count my chickens before they hatched and how to make the best out of disappointment.

My life long love of reading for meaning also is a direct result of my time at the school. It took me until grade 11 to realize that there were about 50 kids in my class who were smarter than me and that if I wanted to get good marks I would have to work harder and read every single word of every single book suggested by every teacher.

Of course, any institution of any type that one spends 5 years in will also mould some negative traits as well in people: that is just human nature. As a, then, very skinny young man who grew 8 inches in the first semester of grade 11 and had a complexion best described as pepperoni pizza like, I certainly developed a shyness, particularly around the opposite sex, that no amount of school dances or going to netball fixtures could fix. I am a naturally reserved person with new people which I think came from having the same group of friends for 5 years at school.

Probably the thing I remember most though, and the thing that moulded me into the person I am today, was the personalities of the teachers and how they dealt with their classes on a daily basis. I remember Tommy Chay, the senior master and my chemistry teacher, seating me next to a rugby superstar repeating grade 12 in his class so we could be lab partners. We were chalk and cheese, or more to the point, very popular (him) and unknown (me) but we got on well. It took me another decade to realize that Tommy was hoping that I would help my lab partner focus on his work and that my lab partner would help me come out of my shell a bit. He was right on both counts and the rugby star and I are still friends to this day.

My maths teacher in grade 12 and final cricket coach at the school was great bloke called Ray Swan who showed me you can be passionate about both the academic and sporting and mix both together in a balanced way. He was direct and honest and I thought he was an absolute legend.

Mr Grieve I mentioned before was my coach in the 16Bs and was also a PE teacher. As someone who then was about 70 kgs dripping wet and very self conscious I will forever be thankful to Mr Grieve for making me captain of that team and giving me a free reign to run the team tactics. This gave me a confidence I had never had before in myself. I was delighted to talk to him on the weekend and reminisce about that 16B season.

Finally I was very close in my final year to a teacher called Barry Gray who, although he had never taught me, had coached me in cricket and I was fortunate enough to be the class prefect for his form class of grade 8 students. Baz taught me it was ok to have fun but at the same to you always had to respect the people around you while you were having said fun.

If I end up being half the man and mentor that these fellows were to me during the course of my career I will be a very happy person.

That said, this blog is not just about being self indulgent and just talking about my past. My trip to my old school made me think about the fact that we all have important mentors in our lives that rarely, if ever get honoured for the work that they do on a daily basis to make the people under the care or charge better members of society. They are the unsung heroes who teach, who coach and who counsel.

So that being the case I am going to finish this post by setting you a challenge dear readers: if you have had a mentor in your past that has impacted on your life, seek them out and thank them. They are the unsung heroes of day to day life and am sure they will say that no thanks is necessary but I am equally sure that the act of saying thank you will have a positive impact on them as it will you.

In closing, I am so happy I made the effort to go back up to my old school and take a trip down memory lane. I can’t believe it took my 19 years but I will back again soon: if only to watch some more cricket because lets face it, there can never be enough cricket to watch!