The brawny fullback almost did it to Jimmy -- the Spud -- Beach. With only a few plays left and Beach's team, the Falls Church High Jaguars, lagging hopelessly behind, 18-year-old Beach was racing up the field, chin tight against his jersey, when he ran slam-bang into the colossal mound of flesh and padding.
The Spud went down.
A lesser man might have followed the team doctor's order to stay home and nurse the concussion, but not the Spud. The Spud had something important to do, and no football player, much less one whose name he couldn't even remember, was going to spoil a mission that started 13 years ago on Beach's first day of kindergarten and culminated this month, a day before graduation.
On Tuesday, June 9, 1981, Jimmy Beach became possibly the first, if not the only, student in Fairfax County public schools never to miss a day of school. A fact duly noted in high script by the Falls Church High School Parent-Teacher-Student Association:
"Jim Beach has been awarded this certificate for outstanding performance in the field of perfect attendance."
Well, sort of, Jim Beach never missed a first period, the class where high school attendance, or absences, are officially recorded.
"Once in a while my friends used to try to get me to skip and go out and drink some beers, but I never went," Beach drawled one evening early last week as he was getting ready for a week of sun at Ocean City. "That is, I never went first period. I'd wait until near the end of the day, then I'd go. It's always good to pop a few beers when it's hot."
Or, when it's cold.
"Teachers used to say, 'How come you weren't in my class today if you're suppose to come to school every day?' Then I'd either laugh or explain the first period bit.
"Anyway, I liked first period. This year it was gourmet foods. Good food."
Oh. Perfect Attendance?
Beach is not exacty the Little House on the Prairie prototype of the wholesome student toiling away for love of school and learning. He wears a single gold earring through his left ear and slings a chartreuse bandanna around his neck. His hero is the late rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix; he doesn't think about politics much; his favorite movies are "Dawn of the Living Dead" and "Death Race 2000."
After college, he says he probably will be a "bum lying on the beach." If that doesn't work out, he might, just might, try coaching.
So, you want to ask this kid lounging on a bright yellow plastic beach chair who says he got mostly Cs and talks a lot about beer kegs and buddies, just why he would want to get up every morning before 7 a.m. to slip into a hard-backed school chair.
Why did you do it, Spud?
"Well, it got to be sort of routine, you know. I'd get up early to beat my brothers to the bathroom at first and then it got to be sort of special around fourth or fifth grade.Nobody else was doing it.
"My teachers would make me stand up, sort of like an example to the rest of the kids, and tell them I had never missed a day of school. It felt good."
Come on. Those are the only reasons?
"After eighth grade, my father told me if I didn't miss any days in high school he'd give me a car.
"My mother would yell for me to get out of bed and say, 'If you don't get up you won't get a car.'
"I got up. I wanted that car."
Now, he has the car -- a forestgreen Ram Charger, a jeep of sorts -- that last week was sitting prominently in the family driveway in the Westlawn subdivision south of Falls Church. The Charger was newly decked out with Jags decals, Beach's trademark green bandanna and a yellow surfboard for the Ocean City trip.
"I never thought I would have to do it," laughs father Jim Beach. "With all the temptations of high school . . . it seemed impossible.
"(But) as it got closer and closer to graduation I realized that I better go out and start looking at (car) lots . . . he lived up to his end, I had to live up to my end."
But isn't it sort of cheating to get a car for "perfect attendance" when, in fact, it only applied to first-period classes?
"What Jimmy did was great and something that no one else has probably done in the county. We think he deserves to be rewarded," answers mother Betty Beach.
School officials could not confirm Beach's claim, since extensive perfect attendance records are not kept, but did say it was highly likely that Beach did, indeed, have the longest attendance record in the school system's history. Beach was a member of the county's first kindergarten class and has attended Fairfax schools ever since.
As it turned out, Papa Beach didn't have to buy a car. One day, as graduation rolled closer, Jimmy Beach told his father not to bother. Tuition next fall at Ole Miss -- the Univeristy of Mississippi -- would be costly and the jeep his older brother Glen was driving would do just fine.
Glen won't be completely without his Charger, since Jim and Glen will be classmates and roommates at Ole Miss next fall. But, as Jim says, "I guess I'll have the upper hand, now."
Still, Beach has the satisfaction of keeping his end of the bargain, and now that the glory is his, he can share a few secrets.
Like how, sometimes, when he saw a cute girl at a party and other tactics weren't working, he would sidle up to her, whisper a few endearments and then swoop in with the clincher: "Wanna see my perfect attendance record?"
"Most wouldn't believe it," the Spud recals, "then I'd tell them to ask one of my friends. They were pretty impressed."
"They were flabbergasted," classmate Bob Steigerwald corrects. "They thought it was really great."
Or, how the Spud made a reasonable sum betting new kids who doubted his attendance. Once, he says, when a classmate didn't believe Beach never had missed a day of school, the two marched down to the attendance office. After a quick check of the records, the classmate turned over the money.
Will he do it when he starts college next fall?
"Nah. It's a pain getting up in the morning . . . going to school with a hangover or something like that . . .
"I'm definitely giving it up in college. I've had enough of it. Anyway, my mother won't be there."