Pretty predictable story, really. Scrawny, awkward, shy kid hates getting picked last for every team. Suffers indignities. Cowers in locker room. Makes up fake illnesses. Throws like a girl. Actually, aspires to throw as good as a girl. Let me be clear, however. I wasn’t picked last in gym because I was gay. I was picked last because I sucked.
But this scrawny shy kid decided to do something about it.
If my life had been like Glee, (or, more era-appropriate – Fame,) I would’ve stood in the middle of gym class, covered in dodgeball welts, and made some brave impassioned speech in defense of “the little guys.”
But, obviously, bravery and scrawn-ery rarely go hand in hand. So instead, I did something cowardly.
On a scale of cowardice, however, this was some pretty brave gutlessness:
I skipped gym.
Not just a class or two.
All of Spring Quarter.
From the moment we returned to school after Spring Break, till the last Field Day before summer vacation, my way-too-short 1980’s OJHS gym shorts and tee sat mouldering in my gym locker, left there from Winter Quarter.
I just never reported for duty. Went completely AWOL. I hid away in the band room, choir hall, library, art supply closet. Nowadays, in this time of gay-straight alliances, LGBT proms and anti-bullying programs, I suspect these are the first places a school administrator searches for missing gym students. But back then, these were the safehouses for the fey set. An underground railroad delivering the physically unfit from competitive indentured servitude.
After a week or so, I remember worrying more about the lack of search parties being sent out for me. In fact, I was soon flaunting my freedom. I began volunteering my services for Study Hall tutoring during that time. Cleaned up the art classroom after big projects. I even formed a breakaway group from the main Jazz Band. (Our bassoon, electric keyboard, trombone & oboe jazz quartet never really took off. Like every group, we had ego issues. Cathy, I’m looking at you.)
Eventually the horrors of gym class became such a distant memory that, well, I forgot about it. Completely.
Until about a week into summer vacation when I realized that my report card was due to arrive in the mail at any moment. And one of the line items on it would still be “PhysEd.” And there would be a letter between “A” and “F” next to it. I could most certainly rule out “A” through “D.” “E” for “effort” was, under the circumstances, a real long shot as well. Which left “F.” Which I’d never personally seen on a report card before. And which, I had a vague notion, meant that one couldn’t proceed with their current academic trajectory. The prospect of having to repeat ninth grade wasn’t something I’d considered while improvising syncopated bassoon harmonies during my illicit breakaway Jazz Band jam sessions. (Otherwise, I’d have been practicing the blues.)
When the document finally arrived, I was the first to intercept it. It had my usual random smattering of “A’s” and “B’s.” In fact it had only “A’s” and “B’s.” I had to search for my quarterly gym evaluation. It was hidden amongst all the rest of the year-end averages.
I’d gotten a “B+” in PhysEd for the quarter.
Now that I’m middle-aged and realize the fallibility of teachers and middle-aged adults in general, I can speculate that my poor gym teacher for that quarter (whom, for obvious reasons, I don’t remember) just sorta winged it when assigning that grade. Faced with a name she/he didn’t recognize in the slightest, she/he probably figured that a “B+” was high enough to elicit no complaints, but low enough to not draw scrutiny.
So “B+” it was.
For never even showing up. This is not the sort of lesson you want to pass on to your children. So let me turn it around for you.
Now that I’m 43, my gym class attendance is much improved.
Here in Sharon Springs, every Sunday night is Community Volleyball night.
The gym is unlocked from 6-8pm in our small rural K-12 school (about 300 kids total,) and any adults from the surrounding communities can come play volleyball.
Anywhere from 10 to 20 people show up each week. All ages, sizes, shapes and resting heart rates. We set up and take down the nets ourselves. We have the school’s retired gym teacher to help guide us. We all do the best we can. Some played volleyball as students. Some skipped gym class as students entirely. Ahem.
Me getting ready for Sharon Springs Sunday night PhysEd:
Everyone who comes to play volleyball tacitly acknowledges who among us is better at what skills. And given that everyone playing is pretty much done with any growth spurts (at least vertically,) those who are tall enough to be good spikers are set to, and those who are low enough to be good bumpers are given clear paths. And those who aren’t astounding at either (again, ahem,) are just plain encouraged.
The best part? We line up and count off to pick teams. No one is ever picked last.
Part of the reason I love Sharon Springs so much is that it’s giving me a second chance at a lot of things. Growing my own food. Learning patience. Working with neighbors. And now Sharon Springs is helping me make up karma for an undeserved Junior High School grade.
I’ll wager that the majority of people in America, on Sunday nights, are probably sitting around their televisions – either not talking to each other or bitching about going to work the next day. Or perhaps buying something online from their La-Z-Boy that they hope will make their lives even La-Z-Er. Or surfing gossip sites to catch up on the latest scandals of celebrities whom they’ll never meet, who don’t care about them, and who certainly would never yell out “great try!” when they missed the easiest volleyball return ever by a country mile.
In Sharon Springs, we do celebrate every neighbor’s individual “B+’s” in their respective lives and careers.
But as a community – as displayed at Sunday Night Volleyball – we know that the most important grade to earn will always be an “E.”