In 4th grade a new student came to our class from Israel. He hardly spoke any English. He had jet black hair and the most beautiful striking blue eyes. At recess and lunch all the girls would go off and chat and the boys would always play something like dodge ball or soccer or baseball. But when Sharone tried to join them, he was told to go away. I watched as his eyes pleaded with the boys to join them, but he was told that since he couldn’t understand English, he couldn’t play. Sharone would sit on the bench and watch all the boys playing and he looked sad. My heart went out to him. It couldn’t be easy being the new kid, especially when you didn’t speak the language.
Over time, the boys got crueler toward Sharone. They liked to play tricks on him. I remember one time they took his bike apart while it was locked to the bike rack. He had no way of putting it back together. I saw him sitting there crying, totally helpless. Eventually I found out he carried all the pieces of his bicycle back home.
I told my friends we had to do something to help Sharone. No one even seemed to notice the problem. But after I explained it, we decided to invite Sharone to play with us. He seemed eager to have someone to play with, but as soon as he started hanging out with us, the boys made fun of him for being a girl. He was shamed, and went back to sitting on the bench watching the boys play ball.
Every afternoon our teacher took us outside for Physical Education. Basketball, baseball, dodge ball, etc. She always picked Darren and Jonathan to be team captains since they were the most athletic people in the class. Darren and Jonathan chose team members one at a time. First all the boys were picked to be on teams, except Sharone that is. Then they picked Cheryl and Maura, the most athletic girls in the class, and finally they would sift through the dregs, which included Sharone. Most of the time he was picked last. When we played baseball we always sat down in the order we were picked. So Sharone would sit at the end, and sometimes he would never get a chance to go up to bat. Our P.E. sessions would last just 20 minutes, hardly enough time for two full innings.
I noticed Sharone’s English was improving over time and I thought for sure the boys would eventually let him play with them. But they never did. Sometimes they would let him shag balls for them, but he was never invited to play.
One day, our teacher said we were going to do something different. She called me and Cheryl to the front of the room. She took us outside so the other kids could not hear us and she said, “You two are the team captains today. I would really like it if you could select people for your team that normally do not get picked first. I want everyone to have a chance to play this time.” Ah, so that’s why I was team captain… because I sucked at playing baseball. ;) Okay, I could live with that. I was nervous though since team captain meant I would have to go up to bat first and all that.
So we went back inside and I got to pick first. I looked to Sharone and saw his eyes fairly pleading to be picked. I connected with Sharone in that moment and realized I finally had the power to do something nice for this kid. No one else in the class knew our instructions, so when I selected Sharone first there was an audible gasp of surprise from Darren and Jonathan. But Sharone… his reaction was the most unexpected. He leaped out of his chair, ran up to me, and picked me up in a bear hug! Wow! He even spun me around. It was exhilerating. He said, “Thank you, thank you! Thank you so much for picking me!” Man I felt good inside. I felt like a genie granting a wish.
We turned to Cheryl and she selected… Darren. Whoa! What happened to the plan? I picked Frances, a small waif of a girl who could barely hold her head up. Cheryl picked Jonathan. Whoa! Hello? Were you not in the same conversation with our teacher that I was? I see where this is going. Cheryl had fire in her eyes! Her team was high-fiving each other right and left. I picked Cassie. Cheryl picked Eric. By the time we had finished picking teams, I had all the girls on my team and Cheryl had all the boys, except for Sharone, on hers. We were clearly about to be creamed.
My teacher looked at us funny. I’m sure she realized what was happening but she didn’t try to fix the situation. As we began walking outside I took Sharone aside and said, “Sharone, I have no idea how to play baseball. How do I know who to assign to which positions?” He said, “Oh Erin, please let me help you. I know I can do it.” I said, “Be my guest!” Sharone took over my team. He got us all huddled up and told us where to go and what to do, giving us pointers on how to hit the ball and play the outfield positions.
It was my turn at bat first. I hit the ball high up into the air and then Darren caught it. Sharone was up next. There was a pep to his step and a pride to his stride. Cheryl pitched the ball to him. He connected with the ball and it went flying! Before we realized what was happening, Sharone was running the bases and made it to third base. Wow. Next up was Frances. She struck out pretty fast, she could barely hold the bat up to her ear. Cassie took her turn at bat and hit the ball hard, right to second base. Sharone made it all the way home and Cassie landed on first base. We were ecstatic! We were all jumping up and down like we’d won the World Series.
Our joy was pretty short-lived. We didn’t score any more points that inning. Once we got to the outfield things got interesting. Most of us didn’t even know which hand to put our gloves on. Sharone set himself up at first base. I was the pitcher. I pitched to Cheryl and she whacked it out to the short stop. She got on base. Darren knocked the ball way out there and they scored two runs. Sharone began running around trying to play all our positions, catching fly balls easily. But without back-up, he couldn’t really throw the ball to a baseman. Cheryl’s team starting hitting ground balls and easily getting on base. Sharone couldn’t cover every base on his own. I saw our chances of winning dwindling with every pitch. Before long it was clear who the winners were going to be.
But something interesting happened. First, I noticed that Cheryl’s team members were constantly yelling at each other. “You should have caught that!” “Hey, you were supposed to bunt!” “Hey, I called first base, you go play second.” A lot of anger and dissension in those ranks. The team didn’t seem big enough for all the egos in the group. No one on her team wanted to bat last, but they had no choice. Without the “girls” on their team someone had to be last.
Our team, on the other hand, began having a wonderful time. We had no expectation of winning so we just started laughing at the absurdity of our plight. We would squeal with delight when someone miraculously caught a ball. We were cheering our batters on with total abandon. And Sharone… every time he got to bat, he knocked it out of the park. He was on fire! His confidence was soaring because he was the best person on our team, we were relying on him, and he felt needed.
When the game was over, Cheryl’s team were all yelling at each other. Yeah, even though they had won. Our team was all laughing and carousing and just being joyous. We had fun. That was the most we had ever gotten to play and it was a lot more fun than we thought.
After class, my teacher took me aside and told me what a wonderful job I did as team captain. I said, “I just wanted everyone to feel good about themselves.” She knew that by “everyone” I meant Sharone.
After that, things changed. The other boys saw that Sharone was actually an excellent athlete. He was no longer picked last; in fact he was picked before Cheryl and Maura. They began letting him play their games during recess and lunch, and before long I even saw him riding his bike home with other boys going his same direction.
Sharone totally blossomed after that.
Over the years I’ve wondered what has become of Sharone. I’m not sure I’ll ever know. But I’ll never forget that Israeli boy with the striking blue eyes, and the courage to persevere, who touched my heart and awakened my compassion.