When you’re a kid, few months are more exciting than June. School will soon be out for summer, and the duration of what little school is left is spent inventing ways to keep yourself occupied (or simply splitting after being marked present for the day, but I digress). With final grades basically set, there’s no more wasting afternoons and evenings on homework and such, provided one is young enough to not need a summer job.
Growing up in Philly in the 1980s and 1990s, summer probably wasn’t a whole lot different than generations before. Baseball always played a prominent role, as I would generally be playing on two teams each year (depending on the age group, it was usually some combination of Juniata’s travel team in the Devlin League, an in-house team for Juniata Park Boys and Girls Club, and/or Police Memorial’s entry in the Philadelphia Police Athletic League). Days when there were no organized games were often filled with stickball at the schoolyard, bouncers or speed pitch depending on whatever mood struck us. Our organized seasons typically ended in late July, at which point we’d add football to the repertoire. Video games did exist, but were pretty much only there in the event of rain, illness, or after everyone had gone in for the night.
Another great part of summer growing up was being able to stay up for the conclusion of Phillies games. Even the ones on the West Coast, though in my younger days I wasn’t always able to last until the end of those. To put it kindly, the Phils weren’t very good for the vast majority of my youth. But it was still cool to catch nine innings of Harry, Whitey, and Andy on a nightly basis.
In June of 1993, things were different. My sister would be graduating from Girls’ High before heading away to Vanderbilt University later in the summer. I was finishing up seventh grade at Masterman Middle School, soon to be a teenager. In fact, my 13th birthday would be spent traveling between Nashville and Roanoke, VA as my family made the trek back home after dropping my sister off at college. Anyhow, because of a late start to the school year (I went to public school, and we started a week later than Catholic school back then. As a result, we got out a week later. It wasn’t until around my junior year of high school that both school years started at same time) and the Blizzard of 1993, school didn’t actually end until the last week of June. By this time, the Phillies had taken the baseball world by storm with their great start, although they were about to get a major scare from the St. Louis Cardinals as school was letting out. Still, for someone unaccustomed to the success the ballclub was having, it was understandable if the way the Phils were playing would distract him from his other responsibilities. Really, you can buy that, can’t you?
The early part of the 1993 season was filled with special moments for the Philadelphia Phillies. From the 8-1 start to Milt Thompson’s catch in San Diego to Mariano Duncan’s Mother’s Day grand slam to beat the Cardinals, you knew you were witnessing something unique. How good of a start did the Phils get off to in 1993? Well, their overall record was 97-65, which makes it pretty easy to forget that they went just 52-48 over the final 100 games. By comparison, the 2012 version of the team that finished 81-81 had the exact same record over its final 100 games. The 102-win 2011 club was 65-35 over that span, even with an eight-game losing streak included. At any rate, the 1993 Phillies showed how important it is to get off to a good start.
Unfortunately, getting off to a good start was not something that happened for me in the classroom in seventh grade. My first report card that year had two C’s on it (English and pre-algebra), which was a first. I managed to pull my pre-algebra grade up to a B by second report, but English was a different story. I still had a C, but my numerical grade had dropped from a 77 to a 73. My grades mostly remained the same for third report (I dropped to a C in art, but my parents didn’t hold that against me as neither they nor I could stand my art teacher), but I’d at least brought my English average up to a 78. All I really had to do was not mess up too badly, and I’d end the year on the honor roll, which was something I’d done every school year to that point. Then, disaster struck. OK, not really, but let’s just say things didn’t go as planned.
To be honest, I didn’t notice any sudden changes in my work or study habits as the Phillies rampaged through the National League during the early parts of the 1993 season. Perhaps the novelty of the team winning caused me to gradually let things slide more and more. It wasn’t until the last couple weeks of school that I started to realize that I might be in a little bit of trouble, and by that point it was a little too late. Maybe all this Phillies hysteria had gotten to my parents as well. They were usually fully aware of all my school matters that point, but they had no clue I was in any danger of getting below a B in any subject. They were in for quite an unpleasant surprise.
June 29, 1993 was my final day of seventh grade. The last day of school is usually a euphoric day, but I went in with a sense of unease. I hadn’t been informed of any of my final grades, though I was all but certain I hadn’t achieved what I’d set out to accomplish. Sure enough, when I was given my final report card shortly before noon, the C in English was joined by similar marks in pre-algebra and social studies (the C in art remained, but you were allowed one C in a minor subject when it came to making the honor roll). Although I generally did well in school, few people would ever have accused me of taking it too seriously. This time, however, I was stunned. I left school that day barely able to say “have a nice summer” to anyone. Now, I know there’s lots of kids, parents, and teachers out there who would love to see report cards with nothing lower than a C on it (myself included my first two years of high school, but that’s neither here nor there), but as I mentioned, I’d never finished a school year not making the honor roll to that point. I’d never experienced that level of disappointment in myself before.
Of course, the hardest part of the day was yet to come. My parents had yet to see this report card. So many thoughts went through my mind. Would I be grounded for the summer? Other than maybe not being allowed out for the rest of a day as punishment for something, I’d never been grounded before. Would I not be allowed to stay over my grandmom’s (she had cable and my parents didn’t) and be able to watch Phillies games I normally wouldn’t be able to see? Would I be taken off the two baseball teams of which I was a member? My parents had a long standing policy that it was my decision alone on if I played ball or not, but under no circumstances could I quit after a season started. Of course, this was partly due to the Boys and Girls Club’s policy that signup fees were not refundable once the season began, but they also didn’t want me taking the spot of someone who wanted to be there (I’d gotten a little burnt out playing the game when I was about 11 or 12 and gave serious thought to at least stepping away for a while. My love of the game ultimately won out. I really do believe the ’93 Phillies were instrumental in me rediscovering the joy in playing baseball). These were circumstances they’d no doubt never envisioned, though. Also, the PAL season did not begin until after school was out, so the possibility existed that I wouldn’t be allowed to suit up for that team. Regardless of what happened, there was no way this day could end well.
My dad was the first of my parents to see my report card, as he was off from work that day. He’s never been much of a yeller, but he did read me the riot act in his own way. My mom was a teacher’s aide and was taking care of some stuff at school when I got home. My dad called her there and made me tell her what my grades were. At first, she thought I was joking. When it became apparent that I wasn’t, things got ugly. I can’t remember many specifics of our brief conversation, but she ended it with “I guess we’ll have to look into summer school.” Now, I knew there was no way I was going to summer school. As disappointing as my grades may have been, I’d still satisfied all of the system’s passing requirements. I really wasn’t in the mood to point this out to my mom, so I chose the path of adolescent defiance and replied, “Fine, I don’t care.”
The conversation picked up after my mom came home and got a little more heated, with the main threat being I’d have to go to a summer school in a less-than-desirable neighborhood, take SEPTA to summer school in a less-than-desirable neighborhood, and ultimately go to Edison High School when the time came (Frankford was my “neighborhood” public high school, even though we lived closer to Edison. Because of this, I mistakenly believed Edison was my neighborhood school. I ended up graduating from Frankford, which wasn’t without its issues, but Edison had many more issues at the time). Cooler heads prevailed, though my mom did call around to summer schools the next day. She told me what I already knew, that I couldn’t go to summer school because I hadn’t failed any subjects. So that was the end of that, though my parents let me know in no uncertain terms that I needed to get off to a better start in eighth grade. I was allowed to finish out the season on my Juniata in-house team as well as play PAL ball (Juniata was going through a period of three or four years where they did not have a travel team in my age group). Good thing, as the PAL team reached the league championship. In seven years of organized baseball to that point, it was the first time I’d been on a team that had advanced to its league’s championship round. Thankfully, I would be a part of six more baseball teams that played for a championship, with four of them coming out on top. And I was still allowed to go over my grandmom’s to watch the Phils on PRISM and SportsChannel.
Were the 1993 Phillies responsible for me almost getting sent to summer school? Well…no. Technically, I was never in any danger of having to go to summer school. And, in the end, it was on myself and myself alone to do the work necessary to pull my grades up. I still can’t help but wonder, though, what my grades would’ve looked like had the Phils not gotten off to such a great start. The first marking period of eighth grade saw the Phillies make their final push towards the National League East title and ultimately, the NL Pennant before coming two wins shy of winning the World Series. What were my grades like the first report in eighth grade? Well, I got C’s in English and algebra. Fortunately, I brought both up to B’s for the rest of the year beyond that point. Of course, the Phils didn’t get off to such a hot start in what would be a strike-shortened 1994 season. Coincidence? You decide (and try to ignore the fact that only a B in physics prevented me from getting straight A’s four years later when the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Final).