That’s French.

It means, “I see the professor.”

It was part of the first lesson in my ninth grade French class, which began, appropriately, with, “J’entre dans la salle de classe,” — I enter the classroom.

I bring it up because this morning I actually am “seeing the professor.” Well, in my mind, anyway.

I’m looking at a computer screen, but I am seeing Jimmy Kolmansberger. Of course, Mr. Kolmansberger wasn’t “Jimmy” to me when I sat in his classes in the mid-’60s. Learning to call him Jimmy — at his insistence — took some doing.

Two things have Jimmy on my mind.

The first is seeing the tennis courts at the Martin L. Mattei Middle School complex. My (almost) daily walks take me right past them and it conjures up images of hitting tennis balls with my old pal Mike Caputo, with Jimmy Kolmansberger jogging past during his morning 5-mile run.

One of the things that kept Mike and I playing tennis together for nearly 45 years was the sound of the ball hitting the “sweet spot” on the racquet. For us, there was nothing like it. Little did we know, however, how far that sound carried. We’d start playing at 7 a.m. and about a half-hour later, Jimmy would run by. One day he stopped to tell us we were a bit of an alarm clock for him. He was already awake by 7 and on his patio with a coffee, he said, but the sound of us hitting tennis balls told him it was time for his run. Jimmy lived a good half-mile away.

The second thing causing me to think of Jimmy was watching Cal Ripkin Jr. break Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record of playing in 2,130 consecutive Major League Baseball games. It was on the MLB Network, which has been providing me with my baseball fix during the pandemic shutdown. I’ve seen that game several times but I never tire of it.

I cannot think of Cal Ripkin Jr. breaking that record, without thinking of Jimmy Kolmansberger.

A Baltimore Orioles fan since he was a Little Leaguer in 1954, Jimmy was not only a huge Cal Ripken Jr. fan but also a fan of his father Cal Ripkin Sr. It was because of his work ethic, Jimmy once told me. “He reminded me of my own dad,” he said. “My dad never missed a day on the railroad. He had a saying ‘if you start it, finish it.’ I think Cal Ripken Sr. was just like that, and I know Cal Jr. is.”

Jimmy’s son, Jimmy, worked in Baltimore at the time (Sept. 5, 1995), not far from Camden Yards, and called his dad to say he managed to get tickets for Ripken’s record-tying and record-breaking games.

He invited his dad to drive down for the first game, stay over at his place, and be there to witness the record.

Jimmy would have liked nothing better, except for a little problem. He had a record of his own. In his 35 years of teaching, he too had never taken a day off. Well, almost never. He took off a day one February when his youngest son, David, was born (Jimmy, he said, was kind enough to be born on Good Friday when there was no school and his other son, Robbie, arrived during the summer). He also took bereavement days when his dad and mom died. But other than that, he had never once called in sick.

“I can’t stay over,” he told his son. “I can’t break my record to see Cal set his.”

So he did this: he taught school on Sept. 5, drove to Baltimore afterwards and saw the first game, left Baltimore at 2 a.m. drove home to Pittston, taught school on Sept. 6, and drove back to Baltimore where he did witness the record.

Jimmy has told me he never met Ripken but came close once. He was standing near the railing at Camden Yards holding a baseball and Ripken was coming along signing autographs. There was a little kid behind Jimmy and he grabbed him and said, “Here, get up front where he can see you.” Ripken signed the kid’s baseball and moved on. “He must’ve thought I was the kid’s dad,” Jimmy said.

Jimmy told me he always wanted to be a teacher but remembers telling Sister Bernadine at St. John the Evangelist, who told him he was college material, “Thanks, Sister, but I’m the oldest of eight kids. My dad can’t afford it.”

Sister Bernadine called legendary King’s professor W. Francis Swingle, also a Pittston guy, and Jimmy was told if he was willing to major in French, which was in its start-up phase, he could get a full scholarship. He was. And that led to a 40-year career in teaching.

If Sister Bernardine had never made that call, I most likely never would have met French teacher Jimmy Kolmansberger.

And who knows what I’d be thinking about in the summer of 2020 as I walk past those tennis courts and watch Cal Ripkin Jr. on TV.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.

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