Glory days

Our middle son, Harris, started his senior year of high school this week. We joke all the time about how sad it would be if high school really did turn out to be a person’s “glory days.”

He’s looking forward to a good senior year, but he’s also hopeful about college, graduate school, starting his career and making a difference in the world. All this talk with Harris about the future reminded me that I’ve had some great times in life, and while they may not have been “glory days,” my senior year in high school was pretty awesome.

The culmination of my high school career was a season of peak happiness. I’m sure there were academic struggles as I wrestled with Advanced Placement Calculus, but I remember my senior year at Lake Wales High School fondly for its blend of athletics, academics, career discovery, social opportunities and accolades. After transferring in as a sophomore, my senior year was the moment I felt like I belonged.

Lance Wallace in Highlander football uniform with his hand on his football helmet
Now doesn’t that football star strike fear in your heart with that game-face scowl?

I finally played a full season of football for the Fighting Highlanders after missing out the previous seasons for logistical or health reasons (see last week’s post about my bout with mono.) I had played basketball since transferring to LWHS, but my strongest athletic desire since growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s under the enchantment of the Dallas Cowboys was to play varsity football. I tried out for quarterback in the spring of my junior year. The coaching staff wisely suggested I switch positions to tight end after it became obvious that I was not cut out to run a veer-option offense. That decision enhanced my playing time and my sense of camaraderie as I bonded with the offensive linemen. Together we battled the Florida heat and humidity, the ubiquitous gnats and our weekly opponents from around Polk County.

It was also fun to confound people who had stereotyped my interests based solely on my academic success. A girl told me during AP English one gameday Friday when I was wearing my jersey to classes, “You play football? You are a weird nerd.”

Then there was the particularly hot and sweaty afternoon when I was running drills with the receivers coach. Coach Warren paused in the middle of the drill and said, “Lance, what are you doing out here? You writing a book about this like that George Plimpton guy?”

I have always enjoyed defying social expectations. Even though I was far from the biggest or strongest guy on the team, the coaches graded me the highest rated lineman, hitting 97 percent of my blocks, in our first game, an upset of nationally-ranked Auburndale High School. I enjoyed the physical challenge, and overcoming obstacles of all kinds taught me resilience.

I had a good year in the classroom, too. Maintaining straight “A’s” all year, I finished my high school career ranked no. 3 in my class, the highest ranked male student, as my mother liked to brag. My choices of involvement ranged from Academic Team to football and basketball to drama led to my selection by my classmates as “Mr. Senior.”

My job as an intern and high school columnist at The Daily Highlander provided another source of satisfaction that year. It set up my career in journalism and communications by exposing me to new ideas, challenging me to write clearly and quickly and teaching me the meaning of ethics and professionalism.

The opportunity also introduced me to a recent college graduate out of Baylor named Bob Perkins. He came to The Highlander to be the sports editor, and because Lake Wales wasn’t exactly a hopping place for singles, we struck up a friendship. He taught me how to drive his stick-shift Ford Mustang when he broke his ankle playing basketball. Over time, I recruited him to our church.

We watched movies and ate pizza. We played basketball on the outdoor court next to the lake. We chipped golf balls in the grass by the walking path. He was a friend and mentor, and we’re still friends to this day.

Having my own car (the previously documented ’78 Nova), dating, graduating in the former Passion Play Amphitheater – or “downtown Jerusalem” as I like to tell people – all of it combined to make my senior year of high school some of the most “glorious” times of my life.