Cory Blake waits at a table in the back of the library when I show up. I don’t know if he called me in here as a trap or for training, but I have nothing to lose. It looks like he’s studying, but he’s not looking at school books. Just some Chinese book and something about Custer’s Last Stand.
But of course, he’s prepared. As soon as I sit down, before I can get my notebook ready and the ball point rolling, or even ask a question, he starts to whisper, but with the intensity of a coach in a locker room at half time:
“You don’t have to pick a captain. Captains stand out, step out of the crowd on their own. If an unworthy one steps forward someone else will step in the way.
“Don’t ask a captain why he wants to be a captain, or what makes her a good one. If you don’t already know, it’s not a good captain. They all have five things about them.
“One is swagger. Another is classroom habits. He also has to master the playground, and have the right stuff. Last but not least, she’s gotta know the rules.
“Swagger shows the captain knows what’s up. Through wins and losses other kids will trust him and not fear losing.
“Classroom is about the difference between good and evil, smart and dumb, favor and detention and how the weather affects the field and players.
“Playground is about the difference between fast and slow, hard and easy, high and low, big and small.
“The Stuff means the captain has a knack for learning and doing, a good track record, fairness, guts, and authority.
“The Rules means he gets game play strategy, leadership qualities, and handling equipment and personnel.
“Keep the captains that win because they mastered the factors. Get rid of the ones who don’t because they didn’t.
“Add to that strategy and in-game moves that react to the other team’s plays and game situations (strategy means using your advantages to your advantage and your opponent’s disadvantages to your advantage, keeping winning in mind).
“Recess game play is the greatest part of school, the maker of winners and losers, the way of long-term success and failure, and the captain sets the tone. You have to get that.
“How do you set the tone? It’s about deception. A game face will trick the other team. When able, act disabled. When under pressure, stay calm. When the goal is near, act like it is far away, and vice versa. Praise good plays, but one up them when it’s your turn. If they are good, practice hard to get ready for them. If they are strong, play around them. If they are frustrated, bug them more. Let them feel false confidence. If they are rested, tire them out again. If they are united, turn them against each other. Hit them where it hurts, in body and strategy. Have some trick plays to get yourself out of tight spots.
“That’s how a good captain wins. Don’t talk about it too much. Just watch and learn.
“Before recess, stop by the wall of fame and compare yourself, your awards and records to all the championship teams you see there, the individual champions, the players who filled the retired jerseys, and the honorees and great coaches. If you measure up and find favor in their eyes, you’ll win. If you do not have both, measure and favor, you won’t.”
He stops and takes a deep breath and his nostrils flare out over his teenage mustache. He takes a swig from an orange juice bottle he had tucked in his jacket.
“What about the captain that has neither?” I ask him.
“If I saw that, the winner and loser would be obvious.”