In fact, during my opening day of first grade in northern Minnesota my classmates picked up on that and displayed their poetic skills. “Kenny Heard, the big bird turd,” they chanted, bringing me to tears and a vow never to return to public education.
So, it was an indication of the way things would be for many years. I was little, shy and unaggressive in those days. It continued on into high school when, after moving from the north to rural Arkansas, I played the perpetual role of an easy target.
The television show “Happy Days” had become popular while I was in ninth or 10th grade and while everyone else loved it, I dreaded the weekly program. The word “nerd” became staple from that show and it doomed me. I became the quintessential nerd. Say my name aloud “Ken Heard.” If you run it together, it becomes “Ken Nerd.”
Doomed, I say.
It was sports and the APBA game that helped dig me out of that. My knowledge of basketball gleaned from playing the APBA solitaire game made some of the more popular kids take notice that, hey, maybe I wasn’t such a geek after all.
I played the game constantly, learning the nuances of the players and then regaling my classmates with an information overload about sports they were unaccustomed to. I sounded like a sports announcer to them and while the NBA wasn’t that popular in Arkansas then, I had an authority that made them realize that perhaps I wasn’t totally stupid.
I think the shedding of the nerd I had came early one morning at a miniature golf course in the Arkansas town where I lived. I worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant/bar while in high school and I and a coworker — one of the more popular ones at our school — were too wired after a late shift to go straight home. We drove around in his car playing Aerosmith’s “Toys In the Attic” album on his cassette before ending up putting at the mini golf course. I was apprehensive at first. Me, an unpopular nerd playing golf with the coolest kid there was. But as we went through the holes, dodging the windmills, whacky banked walls and goofy hills, I went to my basketball forte and we talked sports. And I didn’t come across as a stuttering, retarded person.
We were tied at the 18th hole when a police officer drove in, shined a spot light on us and then walked quickly toward us. It was 2 a.m. and we were kids, after all.
I calmly sank a 10-foot putt into the clown’s mouth to win under the imminent pressure of the possibility of incarceration (you don’t see Tiger doing that on the PGA), and unshackled the nerd crown I wore since being at the school. Later that morning at school, the cool kid told others that I was “okay” and knew my basketball.
Two years later, I was elected my senior class president by the same people who before only referred to me when talking about turds and nerds.
I never amounted to much after that, and I’m still called “turd” at times, but I don’t care as much and it doesn’t bring me to tears. And I’m still a nerd.
But I know from playing APBA for so long that I can keep up with any sports historian and I know that when the pressure is really turned up, and the cops are closin’ in, I can calmly draw back the putter and sink a 10-footer.