Hockey, French, and Space – I almost became an Astronaut!

Ok, I’ll admit that the title of this post is misleading. As a matter of fact, it can’t even be passed off as “social honor”, it’s just a lie! (See earlier post entitled “Leadership – You Gotta Believe!!!” for an explanation of “social honor”) All I know is that my dad told me from a very young age that he thought I would become an astronaut because he said I was “taking up space in school”. He had a typical “dad” way of telling jokes (like I do) that sends everyone heading for the door.

However, I do have some tangentially related stories about astronauts or their families that I have personally experienced (see my next post) in addition to a high school story that proves that I wasn’t cut out to be an academician (or an astronaut).

Let’s start with Southfield High School and with Mr. Carinci, my French teacher and the offer he made me that I couldn’t refuse.

But first, some history of why I was interested in taking French…It all started when I was a young kid living near Detroit, Michigan, just a short ride to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I was a big Detroit Red Wing hockey fan and loved to listen to them on 760 AM WJR radio. (pictured is Gordie Howe, known to the NHL world as “Mr. Hockey” and Red Wing goalie Roger Crozier). (A later post will cover my personal interview with Mr. Hockey conducted when I was a writer for the local hometown newspaper, the Southfield Eccentric, on “Mark Howe Day” in January 1972).

I’ll never forget legendary Red Wings radio announcer Bud Lynch calling the play-by-play….. “Howe shoots, he SCORES!” and “Crozier made a BIG save!”

Gordie Howe and Roger Crozer on front cover of 1963 Red Wings Yearbook

They didn’t show hockey on TV in those days, EXCEPT for Hockey Night in Canada on Channel 9, CKLW from Windsor! Every Saturday night there would be a televised game from either Toronto or Montreal. I’ll never forget the announcers, Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan broadcasting and those Molson Canadien beer commercials! No wonder I drank as a cadet! I digress…..

I LOVED hearing the home town Montreal Forum stadium announcer majestically say to the Montreal crowd “Le but des Canadiens par numero quatre, Jean Beliveau!” (the French speaking crowd would roar) “Assiste par numero seize, Henri Richard” (they roar again), “et numero deux, Jacques Laperriere” (final roar). “Temps du but quinze minutes, cinquant-cinq seconds”. The announcer would then immediately make the same announcement in English (in a decidedly lower tone, as if he didn’t want to offend the crowd who could care less about the English version), ” Canadien goal scored by number 4 Jean Beliveau assisted by number 16 Henri Richard and number 2, Jacques Laperriere time of the goal 15 minutes 55 seconds.” (commas removed for emphasis as I swear that the English announcement was less than half as long as the French version!) You could hear a pin drop in the Montreal Forum, NOBODY made a noise after the English version of the goal announcement was made! From those days on, I made up my mind that I would learn French!

Number 4, Jean Beliveau, “Mr. Canadien” Montreal Canadiens team captain

So, I started taking French as early as I could as a 7th grader at Levey Junior High School in Southfield, Michigan. (Go Jaguars!) French was fun and easy! I took it in 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. Of course, I was one of the few guys that took that much French. What started from a strong desire to learn the language turned into an arduous task of reading (or not) French novels like “L’Etranger”. The only thing I liked about French by the time I got to High School (10th Grade) was the fact that there were lots of girls in the classes. Pretty ones too! I guess I wanted to study French kissing? (I won’t name names, but you know who you are and I’m a married man).

Our French teacher was Mr. Art Carinci. He was also the stadium announcer for our home football games at Southfield High School (We’re gonna fight, fight for Southfield High! Hit ’em, once, hit ’em twice, and hit ’em again,…) (Go Blue Jays!). I made the varsity football team my first year in high school so you could say that I was one of his teacher’s pets (there were others, remember I mentioned we had pretty girls in the class!). Mr. Carinci also did analyst work for the Detroit Red Wings at Olympia Stadium. He actually got me access to seeing the previously mentioned Montreal Canadien, #4, Jean Beliveau and got me a signed picture from “Mr. Canadien!”

The point of all of this is that I was able to coast by in French class through tenth grade as “Mr. C” just held his nose and let me pass. But, the charade was getting to be pretty pathetic in 11th grade as it was obvious I wasn’t studying as much as the others, or more accurately stated, I wasn’t studying at all. I just didn’t care to read French novels, sorry, I only liked the hockey (and girls) aspect. So, Mr. Carinci made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. One day in the Spring of 1971, with several months left in the school year, Mr. C. asked me to stay after class. I dutifully did so and, when it was just the two of us in the classroom he said, ” Joe, I will give you a “C” grade this year IF you do NOT take French next year”. Since it was February with a lot of tortous French novel reading ahead of me till June, I immediately responded “DEAL!”. We shook hands and I didn’t do an ounce of French homework from that point on and “earned” my final grade of a “C” that year.

So I guess my dad was right after all, I really was “taking up space in school”. It certainly was true for my French classes at Southfield High!

I’ll just say one more thing VIVE LES CANADIENS and GO WINGS GO!

Stay tuned friends, the next post actually does talk about face-to-face encounters with a member of astronaut Frank Borman’s family at West Point in 1973 and with Apolo 13 astronaut James Lovell in 1999! I’m not kidding, no social honor this time, it’s the truth! And stay tuned for that 1972 personal interview with Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe!

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