Monday, January 14, 2008

Physics: It's Not Always Rocket Science

1. The science of matter and energy and of interactions between the two, grouped in traditional fields such as acoustics, optics, mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, as well as in modern extensions including nuclear physics, cryogenics, solid-state physics, particle physics and plasma physics.

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In high school one of my favorite teachers was my physics teacher Mr. Dennison. I don't recall all that much from the class other than a few films in time-lapse photography of a bullet piercing an apple, and clouds across the autumn skies. Something about velocity and gravity. Nothing about rocket science.

The reasons we like teachers vary, but in this case it may have been the special interest he showed to me. And it may have been that he was a baseball coach and I'd spent years dreaming that one day I would grow up to play baseball. Mr Dennison, my junior varsity coach in baseball at B.R.H.S.-West in New Jersey, had been a minor league pitcher for seven years. At the end of that seventh year he was brought up to the major leagues for a week, joining Boston's Red Sox bullpen the last week of a non-significant season and getting a chance to pitch part of an inning.

Evidently his dream had to be abandoned, because after this brief brush with the majors he let it go. Looking back on my own life I see any number of dreams embraced and abandoned, and understand now what I did not understand then. Perhaps this experience of pain made him a better coach and better teacher. He was certainly both, and an influence on my life.

It seemed as if he'd taken an interest in me. As a student, one tends to feel oneself to be a lost particle, insignificant as dust. To be singled out is a big thing. Especially by your J.V. coach.

My last period class was study hall and Mr. Dennison would take Joe Sweeney and I out of class to give us batting practice. Mr. D threw more junk at us than a carnival barker. His curves were impressive and the knuckle ball was a phenomenon. Both sophomore and junior years I had the second best batting average on the team and lowest strikeout percentage. Joe Sweeney had the best batting average, a healthy .500 or better junior year, and Skip Hoy similar our sophomore year.

But it was apparent we weren't going to be superstars. Late in the season I was brought up to varsity, played respectably at shortstop and earned a letter. The following year, however, the head coach was going to be re-building and it didn't take rocket science to see my future was not going to be in baseball.

I learned some valuable lessons from Mr. Dennison, a few in the classroom and some important ones out on the baseball diamond. His investment of time made an impact, and imparted some positive energy into my soul, an interaction that helped contribute to my own efforts years later as a coach, teacher and role model. Thank you, Mr. Dennison.

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