By Sean Arresto
This was written in 2003 on the occasion of Jack Rice’s retirement:
Close your eyes and think back on your most vivid childhood memories. What comes to mind? Cook-outs with the family? Playing freeze-tag with your closest friends? All the cool toys you used to get for for your birthday? Going to the local bowling alley with your English teacher? Wait, your English teacher never took you bowling? Well my teacher did, and to this day it is one of the fondest, and most lucid, childhood memories that I have left (college erased a good portion of everything pre-’95).
I had the good fortune of having Jack Rice as both my English and Writing Enrichment teacher in 8th grade. At first I didn’t know what to expect from Jack–he was this wiry dude clad in jeans and a tight short-sleeved dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I remember thinking, “Who the hell is this guy?” Over the next ten months I learned the answer to that question. Jack was the most intense, devoted, and sincere teacher that I ever had. He had (and still has) a style of his own and taught me that being an individual is far nobler than being a follower. Jack and I tried to present that idea to the rest of the school when we quoted Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” in my Student-of -the-Year speech at the end of eighth grade. I say we because Jack helped me every step of the way with that speech. But Jack did not truly become legendary to me until the bowling excursion.
Ronnie Wetzel, Mark Benedetto, Anthony Badalamente and I were all members of Jack’s Writing Enrichment class. One day one of us jokingly said to Mr. Rice that we should hang out over the weekend. I don’t think any of us expected him to say, “Okay, how about bowling? I’ll meet you guys at Bellmore Bowl on Saturday.”
“No way.” “Get outta here.” “Bullshit!”
I remember arriving at Bellmore Bowl about fifteen minutes before Mr. Rice told us to be there because we didn’t want him to arrive, not see anyone, and leave. The longer we were Riceless the longer we thought that he was just pulling our chains. “Told you he wouldn’t show.” “I think it’s illegal for teachers to see students on the weekend.” “This sucks.”
Just when we were about to lose hope the train pulled into town and off walked Mr. Rice, backpack over shoulder, sleeves tightly rolled. “How’s it going, boys?” We couldn’t believe that Rice actually showed up. Who the hell else would meet their students, over the weekend, at a bowling alley? No one. Mr. Rice cared that much about his students that when they wanted to hang out with him in their free time, he obliged. It was an awesome day–Jack bought us sodas and even paid for the games. I’ll never forget that day, and any time I randomly see those other guys, the bowling story invariably comes up.
I owe a lot to Jack. Everything I learned from Jack came into play when I needed to decide on a major in college. I thought back on how much fun he made learning about literature and writing and thought that maybe that was the path for me. Seven years later I can say that that was an excellent decision. I love what I do and working with Jack was a trip. It’s like a kid growing up a Yankees fan and getting to play with Mickey Mantle just before he retires. Jack, thank you for everything–you’ve inspired me more than you know.
Editor’s note: Sean Arresto is an English Teacher at Grand Avenue MS and Head Wrestling Coach at Mepham HS.