Friday, April 3, 2009

Rungi Schmelli 2

The second day of junior high dawns. I take one pair of my new gym shorts and one of the new t-shirts along with my athletic supporter and a pair of socks and lay them inside a towel which I then rolled tight and tied with the laces of my tennis shoes. OK, I’m all ready for my first day of PE class.

The gym clothes went into my locker during homeroom and I took them out following lunch homeroom. I’d carry them with me the rest of the day. The bell rang to end my after lunch class and it was time for PE.

I raced to the boy’s locker room and proceeded to change. We had 5 minutes between classes and PE started 5 minutes after the bell rang. We had to be fully dressed and out on the field ready to go by the end of those 5 minutes. Some guys could never figure out how to be on time. I never had a problem. The PE class would end 5 minutes before the bell. We had those 5 minutes and another 5 to shower, change and make it to our next class.

And, back in the early 60’s you didn’t want to mess around with being late for class. It could be worth a trip to the office for either detention or a “pop” (which was the application of the “board of education” across your butt).

Anyway, in the locker room it seemed as though all the 7th grade boys were along one wall, the 8th graders in the middle and the 9th graders along the opposite wall. The fourth wall was a large open bay shower area with about a dozen shower heads spaced along it. I changed and managed to get out to the field well before Coach Solomon made his appearance.

PE class started with calisthenics. But before they could begin on this our first day of class, Coach divided us into 3 squads of about 10 each. Each squad had a 9th grader as a leader and there was another 9th grader who was in overall charge of leading the exercises. Keith Robbins. Rumor had it that he was almost 16 and already practice driving for his driver’s license. He was a man among boys. While we were puny, Keith was solid—and hairy. He even shaved. He popped zits on his legs while waiting for class to start. Gross, but in a manly sort of way. I didn’t have enough hair on my legs for anything to get ingrown and create a zit.

I had never done any of this before—and obviously neither had my 7th grade colleagues. And yet for me, at least, the calisthenics were easy. They were all done in unison and we were required to count each repetition off, “One, two, three, one. One, two, three, two” until we reached a 15 count of each different exercise. We did jumping jacks, windmills, squat-thrusts, rocking-chairs, push-ups, bicycles and several others whose names I forget. When “cal” was done we’d run a lap over on the track. This would take about 15 minutes and then we’d proceed to the sport we were doing during this 6 week grading period.

The way the class was set up, you could be totally un-coordinated and un-athletic and still earn a B by making sure that you dressed each day, doing well on a written test on the sport we would do each grading period and at least try during the sport’s skill test—like shooting a lay-up and free-throw.

So now, PE class is over. We’ve worked up quite a sweat. We run to the locker room (no walking allowed). We go to our baskets, unlock them and peel off our sweaty gym clothes. Now there is something like 40 or 50 naked young sweaty men trying to get into the shower.

This was the first time I had ever seen so many guys without clothes on—or any for that matter. There were a number like me—scrawny, pubescent boys, tanned from the summer just over but except for our heads, hairless. There were the 8th graders with hairy pits and "other" places. And then there were the 9th graders. Men. Some of them like Keith Robbins hairy all over. I won’t even broach the topic of the differences in “endowment” between 12 year olds and 14 year olds. Some of the kids gaped and held back. A couple of others tried to avoid showering but succumbed to the bluster of Coaches Solomon and Escobar. “Come on girl, get in and out. Everyone shower down.”

Now to bring this tale to a close, I’ve long thought that there was genius to this whole PE class thing. It was physical activity which helped get many into shape and some of us into better shape. Some of the boys had never done anything physical or athletic in their life. And it was a great equalizer. Getting sweaty in gym clothes and then naked has a way of erasing a lot of perceived status. And, everyone has a body—in junior high our bodies are going through a lot of changes—this is normal and natural. I like to think that this was just as much a goal of the class as the actual physical education.

Kids today don’t seem to have this same kind of experience. Physical education has been reduced and in some districts eliminated. Kids don’t get the level of physical activity and there certainly isn’t much expectation on them to exercise at school. That’s too bad because there’s a lot more to be learned in PE than the rules of a sport. Like, what a rungi schmelli is.

No comments:

Post a Comment