They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I have such a picture sitting on my dresser — it’s of myself with four boys, who found their way into my heart. Every time I look at that photograph, it serves as a constant reminder of the special bond created, one which has lasted nearly 30 years.
I was their sixth-grader teacher.
When I came to Praise Christian Academy (PCA), located in North Versailles, Pa., in August 1991, I didn’t realize Joshua Bostick, John Byers, Ryan Campbell, and Brandon Lisotto would become extensions of my family. Although we weren’t actually related, I shared a very special connection with one of the boys. Ryan’s and my family had been friends for three generations, going back to our grandmothers. In fact, I had the 10-year-old convinced for the first week of school that we were cousins after fibbing that our family matriarchs were sisters.
It was a hoot when he came bounding into the classroom with the revelation of my fabrication. Nevertheless, that little blond-haired boy was always very special to me — the little brother I never had.
Since the four musketeers were all on the junior high boys basketball team, I was able to spend time with them in and out of the classroom. I was the assistant basketball coach.
After devoting countless hours for five months of the school year, beginning with daily practices to the end of the season, I knew those pre-teens better than the rest of my charges.
They were always competitive with one another on the court and in the classroom. But the four remained close friends throughout the three years I taught at the elementary/junior high school.
However, that wasn’t always the case, especially at the end of their sixth-grade year when I had to break up a fist fight between two of them in my classroom while being surrounded by the other students. I became a fire-breathing dragon and grabbed both Josh and Ryan by the back of their shirts and drug them upstairs to the library.
Josh, who came to our school mid-year for getting booted from his last one for fighting, would have been expelled. While Ryan‘s parents were one step away from sending their son to another Christian school.
I had a tough decision to make — turn them in to the office or handle it myself. I chose the latter. Because I loved those boys like my own and didn’t want to see them leave over a silly altercation.
The two made up and managed to keep their noses clean for the following two years when all four boys completed their education at PCA with the eighth grade banquet.
While I was not their teacher for their seventh and eighth grade years, I spent a lot of time with them during the five months of basketball practice and the season.
In addition, I was a guest at each of their homes, except for Brandon. He lived on the other side of Pittsburgh, which was quite a distance from where I lived in McKeesport.
Since John’s mom, Margie, was the junior high boys basketball coach, we were friends. So needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time at their home. John was in hog heaven because his teacher came over his house on a regular basis. He was like my sidekick. We played air hockey together, watched movies, and I even spent the night a few times.
Josh had an absentee father, so he loved it when I came over for a visit. I always enjoyed spending time with the budding ladies man, expect the time he and a friend put a dent in my car while playing catch. Then I was ready to smack someone.
I mostly went to Ryan’s house to tutor him in Math. But somehow or another we always ended our tutoring session by playing a board game. On occasion, I sat down with his family and ate dinner. I refused to take any money for the tutoring session.
As their eighth-grade year came to an end, I garnered permission from all their parents to have a sleepover at my apartment. Luckily, they all were able to squeeze into my now dented little red Geo Metro.
We met at the school and went out to eat at Mickey D’s — such a high-brow restaurant. They loved it; and it was easy on my wallet. Bowling was on tap for the night. But when Josh hiked up his trousers and acted like Urkel from Family Matters, a popular sitcom of the day, I wanted to walk out and pretend I didn’t know those four hooligans.
We ended the evening’s festivities back at my apartment where we watched a couple of movies. Then it got a little crazy when the boys ventured out into the hallway while playing truth or dare.
Apparently, we were disturbing the peace and a neighbor knocked on my door. Closing the door after profusely apologizing, I realized the boys had vanished. They were all hiding in my bedroom closet like a bunch of little girls. All in all, those were the things that made that night a memory I still hold near and dear to my heart.
Just like the photo sitting on my dresser – it brings back memories that will last a lifetime. Taken on the steps outside the school cafeteria, the four young men are huddled around me. I’m holding Ryan’s hand; and Josh, sitting behind me, has his arms draped around my neck.
I loved them then; and I love them now. I’m friends with three of them on Facebook. The fourth, who doesn’t have an account on the social media giant, is friends with me on Instagram. So I’m able to keep up with their lives on the social media networks. Three of the four are now married and two of them have children of their own.
Mark S. Price is a former city government/county education reporter for The Sampson Independent. He currently resides in Clinton.