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Great Teachers

by Hap Rocketto

I may be Distinguished with both the service and smallbore rifle but I cannot say that I was a distinguished scholar in high school. Both of my high performing daughters finished 12th grade in the top percent or two of their classes and I told them with that we shared that distinction of percentage. However, while they were at the top of their class I was at the other end. They thought I was kidding until I produced a yellowed and tattered photocopy of my high school transcript.

If it were not for George Gregory, Harry Santangello, and Maura Sullivan I might still be stalking the halls of New London High School in search of the 16 credits required for graduation. That triumvirate of “old school” school teachers cajoled and shamed me into applying myself enough to graduate.

Mr. Gregory was my rifle coach for four years and kept me on the straight and narrow with his wise insight.

Mr. Santangello was my drafting teacher and encouraged me at every turn. Years later I found myself in the odd, and slightly uncomfortable position, of being Mr. Santangello’s supervisor while he kept himself busy and picked up a few dollars to supplement his pension by substituting at the school in which I taught.

Miss Sullivan suffered me for three years as I took four of her courses; Ancient History, Europe in the Middle Ages, Modern European History and United States History.

While Coach Gregory and Mr. Santangello were avuncular Miss Sullivan was the opposite side of the coin. Stern and demanding she never let up on me. Within a few weeks of the start of my sophomore year she stopped me on the way out of the door to lunch and bade me to sit in the straight backed wooden chair next to her desk which, under the circumstances, reminded me of the electric chair.

“Mr. Rocketto, you have a good mind.” she said. I perked up because I had gotten far on adolescent charm and an amazing storehouse of trivia. I breathed a mental sigh of relief thinking that I had pulled the wool over the eyes of this flinty old maid and was on my way to charming her into a gentlemanly C.

I was quickly disabused of that notion, “But you are lazy, sloppy and disorganized. I do not tolerate academic slovenliness or wasted potential. You will change your ways or else. Should you continue on your present course you will find yourself in durance vile. Do you understand? Now get on your way and see that we do not have to have another one of these meetings.”

I raced off, not quite knowing what she said but knowing that whatever she said she meant it. I may have skimped on my other subjects but Miss Sullivan’s work was always done on time and to the best of my ability.

Collecting an amazing number of Ds I muddled through the rest of high school. The only thing that kept me eligible to shoot on the rifle team was the As and Bs I earned in drafting and history. Mr. Gregory watched over me. Mr. Santangello encouraged me. Miss Sullivan scared me. I was drawn to these teachers and took every course they offered.

We spent a good deal of time on Henry VIII in Europe in the Middle Ages. One day I had managed to impress Miss Sullivan, a rare feat for anyone let alone me, by reciting the names of the multifaceted and multi-wed king’s six wives in order; Catherine of Aragon, Ann Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. I scored extra points when I dredged up from my extensive storehouse of trivia a simple rhyme that told how each met her fate: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, and survived.

The next day she beckoned me and wordlessly pointed to the wooden chair. Searching my guilty conscious I drew a blank. Never the less I was sure that it was going to be the electric chair this time.

Handing me a small pamphlet she said, “Good job yesterday Mr. Rocketto. I know you are a rifle shooter and perhaps you might like to read this little monograph with some attention the lines I have underlined. Now be off with you.” I grabbed the pamphlet with my sweaty hand and took off as if Old Nick himself was after me. As I bolted away it suddenly hit me that Miss Sullivan had given me a compliment. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Skipping lunch I found a quiet corner to examine the treasure she had bestowed upon me. It was reproduction of a book dedicated to Henry VIII entitled Toxophilus or the Schole or Partitions of Shooting by a courtier named Roger Ascham. It contained a long and elaborate preface where the author sucked up to the king royally. It must have worked because Henry graced Ascham with an annual pension of £10, at the time an amount large enough to purchase a modest house with a tile roof.

I found that the text was a dialogue between Philologus, a man dedicated to study, and Toxophilus, a man dedicated to the bow, who argues that archery is a sport befitting a scholar.

There, underlined with a neat line of red teacher’s ink was an exchange in wherein Philologus asks Toxophilus, “What is the chief point in shooting that every man laboureth to come to?” The bowman simply replied to the scholar “To hit the mark.”

It summed up both my efforts in shooting and my quest to please Miss Sullivan, Mr. Santangello, and Mr. Gregory.

Category: Hap's Corner

About the Author: Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career, pronematch.com.

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