When I was kid, the subject I hated most in school was PE. Even in the seventh grade, it seemed like a barbarous hour in the middle of the school day where they forced us to put on sweaty clothes and compete in team sports. Some kids were so competitive that it made the whole exercise unbearable.
The competitiveness was encouraged by the teachers (we called them coach—even though they taught History too).
I didn’t mind PE when it involved a non-competitive sports. I liked running and solo exercises. But, I was an exception. Everyone else wanted to play a team sport, so that’s mostly what we did. I went to 3 different junior highs and 3 high schools. All of them were the same. We played basketball, softball, and soccer mostly. Occasionally, we would play tennis.
Here’s a typical PE class. Everyone gets dressed and heads out to the blacktop (tarmac) to form up (very Army like). We do a few stretches. Then, the coach announces that we will be playing basketball today. He chooses the two best basketball players as captains. They each take turns choosing the rest of the class for their team. The good players go first. I was frequently last. In fact, there was another kid who was sometimes chosen after me, but not all the time.
Then, we’d play an awkward game of basketball. I say awkward because I would never actually want the ball. It’s not easy running around the court trying to look like you are involved and helping the team, but constantly putting yourself behind the person guarding you so you would never get the ball. I run around and wait to be called in to shower.
Showering in junior high was weird too. No one wanted to do it, but it was a requirement. They used to have a shower monitor who would give you a rubber band at the showers when you proved you were wet enough. You couldn’t leave the locker room unless you had one. So, we all did this thing where we would get undressed, wrap a towel around our waists, stand next to a running shower and cup our hands to splash ourselves with water. I’ve never seen anyone actually get into the shower or remove the towel. No one ever got clean—that wasn’t the goal. We did this to get the rubber band and get out of their and back to our normal school day.
It’s not that I don’t like exercise. In the Army, we did physical training nearly every day. But we never did team sports.
I have this inexplicable ability to get hit in the face with any ball I play with. I’ve had basketballs bounced off my face. I have been hit in the face with baseballs. I even once hit a tennis ball with the corner of my racket and had it fly into my face. I’m glad we never had bowling at school.
These accidents wouldn’t be so bad if I just laughed them off like other kids would, but I was an awkward teenager. I never laughed anything off. While others laughed at me, I just kept going like nothing had happened.
PE probably wouldn’t have been so bad if there were only boys in our class. I embarrassed myself in front of everyone, but I started to get interested in girls at this age. I would have liked it more if I could have humiliated myself only in front of the boys.
I can remember playing softball in PE. I always went to my normal position from Little League – right field. No one ever hits the ball there, and if they did, so one expected a super-human catch like you see in the major leagues. So, you were mostly safe. Once, the ball was hit straight to me. I couldn’t even move to get it. I was a slow fly ball that was destined for the exact spot I was standing in. I put up my glove and the ball landed in it. Now, this wasn’t my glove— it was a borrowed glove form the PE department, and the webbing was gone between the thumb and fingers. So, the ball fell from my glove to the ground. I quickly picked it up and threw it into the infield (anywhere in the infield—-just away from me!). I looked over at a girl who I fancied—-her name as Jackie. She looked at me with disgust and said “You ass!” This was the longest conversation I ever had with her. I looked at the ground and pretended I didn’t hear. It was a better tactic than thinking about how a normal person would respond.
In school, the kids who were good at team sports were the most popular, even with the teachers. It’s amazing to think about how much better they were treated than the kids who were good at academics (I wasn’t one of these either). High School was worse than junior high, because the everyone was interested in how the school football team was doing. To be on the football team meant you were one of the leaders. You were like a member of congress. You could leave the school on a bus to some other school in North County for a game and no one would care that you missed class.
All through school, the teachers and parents make it a point of telling you that you need to attend school to get ready for the real world. I’m having this own conversation with my kids now. Well, I’m in the real world now, and there is no way I would ever go back there.