Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the scary series: PE.

Welcome to the next installment of my real-life scary stories. My next topic is about something that doesn’t scare everyone, but it sunk dread into my heart every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from kindergarten until 8th grade. That’s right: PE.

As a kid, I loved to run around in the woods behind our house, and I loved to play with the dog and ride my bike. I loved to explore and go on walks, and playgrounds were heaven. You know what I didn’t love? Structured exercise. I didn’t like being told when I couldn’t run and when I couldn’t, and I didn’t like being told what games I had to play. I especially didn’t love the competition – I have always been a competitive person, but only when it’s something that I know I can win. PE was not something I could win. EVER.

Now, don’t get me wrong: as an adult, I realize that PE is an essential part of a school day, especially for the younger kids. They need to get out and run around, and everybody could use some exercise. I’m sure the whole experience was good for me… but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it.

I doubt that I started off with such a bad opinion of PE. When you’re in kindergarten, all you do is play “Wide Wide River.” Remember that game? One kid stands in the middle of the gym (or playground), and the rest of the kids yell, “Calla, Calla, may we cross your wide, wide, river?” Then the kid in the middle chooses who can cross: everyone wearing purple, everyone with a ponytail, etc. Then, everybody from the selected group tries to run to the other side of the gym/playground without getting tagged by the kid in the middle. If they get tagged, then they have to start tagging, and they stand in the middle with the original kid. This goes on and on until everybody is in the middle. Game over.

I’m fairly certain that what turned me against PE was all the running. I didn’t mind the games, but the running was just something else. Every day at the beginning of PE, we’d sit in our spots (we had assigned spots on certain lines on the gym floor) and do our warm-ups. We’d do some stretches, some sit-ups, and some push-ups… and then we’d run laps. I’ve always been more of a sprinter, so this sustained running was not up my alley. I would lag way behind, more out of spite than anything else.

In addition to those accursed laps, there was another running activity we did called the Journey. We only did this on days when PE was outside, as the school playground was an essential part of the Journey. You had to take off running from the school doors and make your way through the playground-turned-obstacle course. You weaved through the tire swings, slid down the roller slide, hopscotched over to and then ran through the sandbox, snaked through the jungle gym, and whacked the tetherball a few times before class actually began.

Outdoor PE really wasn’t that bad: after the Journey, we either played flag football (fall), kickball, or softball (spring). The only one of these I was remotely good at was kickball, as it’s about the simplest thing ever. All you have to do is kick a ball and run. No problem. Flag football didn’t especially interest me, and I was (and probably still am) terrible at softball. I blame it on a lack of hand-eye coordination.

Of course, a major part of PE was dodgeball. We played with little foam balls, so there was little to no chance of injury. There was one day of dodgeball where we decided to try playing with the big rubber kickballs, which ended up being the day I got hit in the face and broke my glasses. (Believe it or not, that was the one and only time that I’ve broken my glasses. And yes, I had to go around with tape on them that day.)

We tried a little bit of everything in PE: soccer, jump roping, crab-walking in the wrestling room (yes, really), four-square, you name it. I have never been a big participant in competitive sports, so none of these held my interest (especially basketball, which I STILL don’t understand). However, there was one sport that I truly did enjoy: field hockey. We played hockey about once a year (what a shame!), but I looked forward to hockey day like no other. Believe it or not, I was good at field hockey. I was fast and nimble, and I was a good aim with a puck. I may have missed my calling as a field hockey player.

While I was good at field hockey, I was fairly terrible at everything else. I could usually get away with it because we never spent more than a week here and there with each particular sport… until junior high. From about November to February, the PE classes were split into boys and girls. During that whole time, the boys did nothing but play basketball, and the girls did nothing but play volleyball. I went through the rotation in seventh grade volleyball; I had a jersey and went to the required games. However, when you’re a twelve-year-old girl who doesn’t particularly like something, you’re not going to try all that hard at it. When volleyball season came around the following year, I requested to be the stat keeper. I still had to play in gym class, but instead of playing in the games, I’d keep score instead. Not surprisingly, the volleyball coach had no problem with that.

So we’ve established that I didn’t particularly like PE (save for field hockey). However, there were two things that especially soured PE for me: Presidential Fitness and picking teams.
In order to split us into teams, the PE teacher would usually line us up and give us numbers: they could be ones and twos, they could be one through four, but we never really knew how we would be divided up. (He did this so we weren’t always clumping together with our friends). This was the one and only way teams were chosen for years. But one day, the PE teacher chose two team captains and informed them that they were to pick their teams. You guessed it: I was picked last. Every single time we picked teams this way, I was one of the last (if not THE last) to be chosen (unless one of my friends was a team captain and they took pity on me). Even though I was a lousy athlete and knew it, it was still a blow to the ego to be chosen last all the time.

Presidential Fitness came around once a year, and we spent the whole week doing all sorts of fitness tests. The tests themselves weren’t that bad – the bad part was that you did them with everyone watching. You had to do as many sit-ups and push-ups as you could in a minute, stretch as far as you could on a ruler placed at the base of your feet (I could barely reach the ruler) and do as many ten-foot sprints as you could in a minute (these we did two at a time in alphabetical order, and all the kids at the beginning of the alphabet were super athletic – except for me. So I was always paired with someone super fast, and it was a tad bit embarrassing).

Worst of all were the chin-ups. We had to hang from a chin-up bar and do as many chin-ups as we could, and EVERYONE stood around staring at you. I have the upper-body strength of a kitten, so chin-ups were never successful for me. I flailed around a bit and then dangled until my time was up. (I did manage to do one chin-up one time, but that was a fluke). Needless to say, I never won any Presidential Fitness awards.

I muddled through PE with no real light at the end of the tunnel… until fifth grade. What was so different about fifth grade? Band lessons, that’s what. We started band at the beginning of fifth grade, and up through junior high, band lessons were required – and I thanked my lucky stars. They were once a week and fifteen minutes long, and we had to find time within one of our classes to go. I, of course, chose PE time.

Every Monday, I left PE a solid twenty minutes before my band lesson was about to begin. After all, I had to change out of my gym clothes, make my way to the band room, put together my clarinet, find my music, and warm up… and I made sure it took twenty minutes for all that. The band lesson itself was always right on schedule, but I took an additional twenty minutes getting back – after all, you need to disassemble your clarinet, clean out the spit (gross, but essential), put away your music, get back to the gym, and change back into your clothes. If I timed it right, I’d be strolling back into PE around the same time my classmates were being dismissed to the locker room. Mondays were the best.

Except for four months of straight volleyball, PE in junior high was way better than PE in elementary school. Gone were the days of Presidential Fitness and everyone staring you down as you struggled on the chin-up bar. Junior high PE wasn’t much more than kickball and the occasional sprint. PE was on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with study halls on Tuesdays and Thursdays – and it wasn’t hard to talk the gym teacher (who, in junior high, was never the actual gym teacher but one of our regular teachers who happened to have a free period at the end of the day) into another study hall in lieu of PE. It helped that most of my junior high PE class wasn’t terribly sporty, either.

Once you entered high school, PE was no longer a requirement. At the end of eighth grade, I joyfully bid PE farewell. High school allowed you to arrange your own schedule, so the lack of PE meant that I could use my time for something I was more interested in, like art or FACS (yep, Family and Consumer Science – ANYTHING but PE). I also managed to choose a college where there was no PE requirement – there was a performing arts requirement (hellooooo, band!), but nobody was going to make you take gym.

It’s been almost thirteen years since I was last in a PE class, and I still cringe when I think about the chin-up bar and choosing teams. Like so many of my sucky experiences, I have to remind myself that it’s a good thing that they happened. After all, if they hadn’t, then what would I tell you about on this blog?

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