Hanging out in gym class


When I was in high school, there was one thing that absolutely and totally terrified me.

Actually, as a 15 year old in the late 60’s, many things terrified me.  Wearing glasses, gaining weight, being shunned by the “cool kids”, talking to a boy, zits – you know, typical high school stuff.  For the 60’s.

But they were nothing, I repeat, nothing in comparison to the true terror of my young life.  That thing that sent chills up and down my spine, and caused my arm hairs to prickle.  The thing that happened twice a week, rain or shine, with sickening regularity, and caused me non-stop angst the entire day before.  The thing that, AGMA firmly believes, ruined a generation of potential female athletes.  I’m talking, of course, about…

High school gym class.

I blame Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson.  President Eisenhower established The President’s Council on Youth Fitness to counter reports that America’s youth were fat, lazy and sloppy.  Oops – seems like everything old is new again.

The scope was enlarged by President Kennedy, and in 1966, President Johnson established the Presidential Physical Fitness Award for exceptional achievement by 10- to 17-year-old boys and girls.

And that’s when trouble really started.

Schools started trying to whip their students into shape to win those damn awards.  My high school was no exception.  It was brutal.

First of all, I’m pretty sure they hired gym teachers educated in 1930‘s Germany and/or the Soviet Union. The frauleins were all sadistic dictators with whistles who showed no mercy.  God help the girl who was not naturally athletic.  Like me.

Secondly, we had to do all kinds of crazy sh*t.  We played crab soccer.  Yeah – I said crab soccer.  WTF?  And they made everybody play basketball – even the little, short, plump girls with no coordination.  Like me.

We had gymnastics and apparently everybody was expected to dance across a balance beam like Olga or Nadia.  Or flip over the vault a la Cirque de Soleil.  Or swing around the uneven parallel bars like monkeys in heat.  It was terrifying to your normal, typical, un-athletic, short, nerdy high schooler.  Like me.

Oh yeah – and we did all of this wearing these Orange is the New Black little one-piece numbers – our “gym suits” – that we were actually required to buy.  Like with our own money.  Talk about adding insult to injury…

Thirdly, they couldn’t just torture us in the gym or outside crab soccering.  No.  The agony ratcheted up to a whole new level when, four times a year, we were herded into…

The pool.  The indoor pool to be precise.

So no matter how frigid the Pittsburgh winter was outside, the temperature inside was always a balmy 65 degrees with the water being a roasty toasty 65 degrees as well.  Lovely.

Inevitably, swimming was in the middle of the school day.  You had five minutes to change into your swimsuit.  I don’t know what happened if it took you longer than five minutes.  We were too scared to find out.  Such was the fear of the Commandant…

Then it was jump in the pool in the deep end and tread water in the middle of the pool until the teacher told you to stop.  We treaded for hours.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration.  And you didn’t dare reach for the edge if you were tired or you’d have to tread for another two hours.  Again, possible exaggeration.

Exhausted, you would look up to the bleachers and enviously see the gaggle of “the unclean”.  These were the girls who had notes from their mothers telling the Commandant that it was “their time of the month”.  Since swimming lasted six weeks, every girl was pretty much guaranteed at least one week of “unclean time-out” unless they were slightly…ah…“irregular”.  Like me.  Ick.

We had ten minutes to get our suits off, jump in the communal (oh God I wanted to die) shower, get dried off, dressed and dry our hair.  Everybody in our class was bonded by mutual misery.  Sisters in suffering.  Good times.

We did synchronized swimming our senior year.  And we were awful.  That part was kind of fun because Comrade Gym Teacher would really get upset with us and blow her whistle.  A lot.  At that point we didn’t give a flying fig.  Senioritis had set in.

Over 44 years have passed since AGMA’s last high school gym/swim class.  Normally time tends to mellow distant unpleasant memories.


I’m just glad I’ve been able to live a semi-normal life and don’t go into a catatonic trance watching women’s gymnastics.

I think I’m going to lobby the IOC to make crab soccer an Olympic event.  It’s really a beautiful game.

59 thoughts on “Hanging out in gym class

  1. I laughed and chuckled repeatedly!! In the 6th grade we were all given fitness tests! I grew up in a very sedentary family. We were told to do as many situps as we could. One classmate did 50 at a remarkable speed. I did. …2! I was so embarassed! I was in the same group of geeky smart girls you were! Lol .Our gym out fits were blue. Hated PE!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh – so glad for the chuckles & laughs! I figured it would resonate with the women “of a certain age” out there! My family was pretty sedentary as well. And I was kind of a clumsy teenager and not built for sports so it really was torture. I’m sure we did fitness tests, but they probably only picked the girls who were athletic. Thanks for being sister in misery Joyful!! Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this! I remember less about the games we played at school in the 80s and more about the uniform…or lack of!! Our PE uniform consisted of a white sports t-shirt and a pair of navy nylon knickers (‘shorts’ would be too generous a word for these tight-leave-nothing-to-the-imagination horrors). In the winter we were allowed to cover our ‘navy nylon knickers’ with a short pleated skirt and if we were really lucky, a sweatshirt. As you can imagine in England, playing hockey or netball in the winter with exposed legs was not a barrel of laughs: we used to try and mitigate the chapped and blue skin by smothering our legs in vaseline on icy days 😁. And don’t get me started on the delights of the COMMUNAL SHOWERS…!

    You know what, you have inspired me to write a blogpost about the horrors of the PE kit – in contrast I had to spend a mere fortune on my daughters games kit recently: thermal long-sleeved top for the winter, games top, hoody and tracksuit – and that’s just the top layer! How times have changed 😄

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gosh, I’m flattered that I inspired you! I just got a chance to skim your post – can’t wait to go back and give it my full attention… Thanks for the compliment!

      Heavens – you gym outfit sounded positively racey! Guess all that stuff we hear about English schoolgirls is true! 😉 I understand that they were skimpy and awful when it was cold outside, but they sound kinda cute… Clearly, the repressed Americans had gym outfits that not only weren’t attractive but made it impossible to even identify individuals as females! Typical…

      Glad your daughter gets to be warm in the winter! But I’m sure your Vaseline slathered legs helped build character right?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! It makes me think of in ELEMENTARY school when the boys were *encouraged* to climb the rope to the very top of the gym, touch a beam, and then climb down. At the bottom in case you feel was a mat — a HARD mat. Lawsuits weren’t in the daily discussion then, and the only insurance coverage school districts had was for leaky roofs. I still have dreams about climbing that rope.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So did you like the rope or not? I’m guessing with the hard mat comment you didn’t like it… Brilliant deduction right? OMG – we had to do the rope too in high school! I totally forgot about that. It’s probably that thing about wiping traumatic events totally out of your memory…

      I think I probably got about 1/5th up before my arms gave out. Upper body strength has never been a strong suit. Not only that, I hated heights (kinda still do) so I didn’t WANT to go up that rope (even if I could have!)

      Thanks for reminding me about the rope. I think…


      • Wow…. I completely forgot we did that in Junior High *and* High School too, didn’t we? Okay, I completely forgot that. For some reason I only can remember elementary school, probably because it was INSANE of the school administrators (not to mention the allegedly qualified gym teachers) to have small children do that back then.

        No, I decidedly did not like it. Great deduction! 🙂 Even then I was perplexed by the hard mat and not at least a trampoline. Ah, nightmares. Gotta love ’em.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So what was it about that rope that you had to do it in elementary, jr high and sr high? Interesting… And you’re right – making elementary school kids do that is NUTS!

        I love that so many people making comments used the word “nightmare” Clearly my post was like nails down a chalkboard! Ouch!


  4. My, that brought back memories (or rather, nightmares!). Our one-piece gym suits were navy blue, and I actually liked mine – it was very comfy.

    What I didn’t like, however, was having to wear the school-provided bathing suit. It was a shapeless one-piece stretchy tank-top suit, in black, and even Twiggy would have looked fat in it. You never got the same suit twice – they were collected after class, laundered, and returned to the communal storage area. My gym class was late in the day, and usually the only suits left were the extra, extra large ones. Sometimes the teacher would have to tie the straps together to keep the suit from falling off.

    I haven’t thought of all that in years – thanks so much for reminding me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • For the life of me I don’t remember what we wore to swimming class. I’m pretty sure we didn’t bring our own suits from home. That would be too un-uniform right? I think I’ll ask some of my old HS buddies to see if they remember. I was pretty “chesty” back then but not “perky” (if you know what I mean…) I must have looked like hell in a school suit!

      And do you REALLY thank me for reminding you?? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG AGMA – I can soooo relate. Swim class in gym was the W O R S T – well -right before REQUIRED communal showering! Going to your next class with wet hair and NO MAKEUP. Oh the horrid memories you brought back. Did we go to the same school?? I graduated from North Allegheny High School in 1980. Eeee gads!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now you know how the other half lived! Most of us ladies HATED gym! But, you’re right about the guys liking it – gave them a good outlet for all of that testosterone fueled craziness trapped in their bodies! For 45 minutes at least…

      Thanks for the compliment and you can still be a follower even though you liked gym! Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Swimming? I’m jealous. In my small town our PE did not include a pool. We were, however, required to wear those damnable gym outfits- ours were blue. We all were required to play basketball whether we could or not. Did anyone bother instructing the teachers adolescents are clumsy? By all means stick a ball in their hand and require them to run across a slick floor dribbling the ball. Let’s just say- aw, no. I couldn’t dribble that damn ball if they’d threatened me with a ball bat. And to this day, I have never been able to do a pull-up, push-up, or climb the damn rope! But, I loved when they made us square dance. I could dosey-doe with the best of them.
    Loved this stroll down memory lane. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now WHY didn’t I have square dancing?? I think I would have loved it too!

      Oh – I’m glad you enjoyed it! But did we stroll or did we stumble down memory lane? Like you, I couldn’t run and dribble a basketball if my family’s life depended on it. I just couldn’t. And the teacher yelling at us didn’t help. As if high school wasn’t hard enough right?

      With minimal upper body strength, pull-ups, push-ups and especially the rope climb were out of the question. That damn rope was my nemesis! I would shudder when I would see it down with the mat under it. It got to be a real mind game thing with me. Yikes – I’m getting goosebumps right now…

      And honestly, don’t be jealous about the swimming. If you liked swimming, they would make sure you hated it by the time you graduated. Unless you were on the swim team and then you were just plain crazy!


      • Lol of course as much as I love swimming I hated swimming with my face in the water. Alas, Another coordination issue. I’d never make a swim team either. I shudder at the pull up bars. Hell, to this day I can’t do a push-up either. Oh well, I prefer reclining on a yoga mat.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah – they should have taught us yoga! So I could have done square dancing AND yoga! Could you imagine how much trouble a gym teacher would have gotten into back then if they did yoga with their class?

        And you would definitely have had you face in water! EVERYBODY had to have their face in the water when they swam. I never did quite get the breathing thing down so I ended up holding my breath a lot. I’m glad I never passed out!


  7. oh, yes .. brings back memories! ‘cept we did not have a pool (too poor, I suspect). but the crab soceer, the gymnastics, the one-piece gymsuits — oh, yes. Hated P.E.! I was not athletic to start; think P.E. made it worse …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like I said, ruined a generation of potential female athletes! And don’t mourn not having a pool. It was cold, full of nasty chlorine and made me hate swimming. I do have to say my swimming skills improved because we would have to endlessly swim the length of the pool and back, but I pretty much have avoided swimming as an adult because of the negative association! Bummer…

      Oh my gosh…I just now remember how horrible I was at volleyball as well. Couldn’t serve, couldn’t hit the ball over the net and at a shade over 5 ft, sure couldn’t spike!

      I hope you aren’t too traumatized by me reminding you of it all abbylynn!


  8. I did play crab soccer ..once.

    Yea, phys ed was not my favourite class. Who knew that I would love cycling as a lifestyle. That was pursued outside of school for strictly pleasure and fun exercise. Should be a clue how to motivate children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that the words “fun” and “exercise” were not permitted to go together. At least by my gym teachers! And if we would have had cycling in gym, I just might have learned how to ride back in the day!

      Did I tell you I bought a bike a few weeks ago? OMG – I’m a bit terrified of it… I took it out last week for like 10 minutes, but it’s been so beastly hot here that I had to quit. The heat plus my anxiety got me sweating bullets! But I AM going to learn (or so I keep telling myself!) 🙂


      • So a new blog post forthcoming on your new bike and foibles?

        Was it a road bike with drop-down handlebars or more upright in geometry?


      • No new blog ’bout bikes… I have enough to handle with one blog – you can see how long it’s taken me to reply. Yikes! But in all fairness, Le Tour wasn’t over until Sunday… 🙂

        It’s more upright. It’s a mountain bike for sure with fat tires and 24 gears and shock absorbers on the front. I might have to wait until Fall to really give it a go. It’s sooooo hot & humid here this summer and the natural response is to wear as few clothes as possible. This is not good if you are wobbling down the road terrified of falling with your shorts and short sleeve top. In the Fall I can put on “reinforcement” clothing that would be somewhat protective in a fall.

        I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m a runner Jean, and it’s been like a humid oven here all summer so the ONLY time to run is in the early morning. I will work the bike in, but it just needs to get cooler here. I’ll tell you – the heat has been relentless – every day it’s in the mid 90’s (F) and we are getting very dry because of the lack of rain. I’m training for a marathon in October so I HAVE to run but it’s been miserable. So now you know – I’m a wimp! Ha!


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  10. Ach, the green bloomer gym suits!! And the expectation that we be “well-rounded” athletes was tough for a kid like me, who was good at a few athletic things, like running (till the boobs came) and team sports, but who sprained her neck doing a forward roll and could get barely a foot off the ground on the rope and still managed to get serious rope burns!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Were we twins separated at birth? It’s a shame that in the process of trying to make us “well-rounded”, they actually pushed a lot of us away from athletic activities because of the sense of failure we got from their unrealistic expectations.

      And tell me about the running and boobs. Now that I’m a runner, I have to buy those expensive extra firm support bounce-control underwire running bras to keep the girls in check. Back in the day, I know I couldn’t have been a hurdler – I would have hurt other people with the girls flailing all over the place!

      And I HATED that rope! Just had to say that…


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  12. My gym teacher in junior high looked a lot like the one in your photo. Her name was Miss Smith and she taught us modern dance, which I loved. In high school we had gym class (or P.E.) every day. We played speed-away (kind of a cross between soccer and touch football), basketball, volleyball, and baseball. I would have given my eye teeth for a pool since we were in SoCal. This was before Title IX. The boys had a swim team and practiced at a local park. Another girl, who loved swimming too, and I went to the principal and begged for a swim program for the girls, but to no avail. About five or six years after I graduated they finally put one in. *sigh*

    Our showers weren’t quite as communal as yours. We had a shower in each group of lockers and I seem to remember taking turns. But still…in junior high I used to get a lot of razzing on the days I actually wore a bra (size 28 AAA) instead of my vest-like undershirt. Yes, good times. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, and we didn’t wear bloomers. We had a white shirt that snapped in the front and navy blue shorts. Everything had to go home to be washed and ironed each week for “inspection” the following Monday. Yes, they would line us up and if you were still all wrinkled (which I was on numerous occasions) you would get marked down in the teacher’s grade book. I think your P.E. grade would be lowered if you had too many demerits. Oooo, scary!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I would have loved modern dance! Dancing was one thing I could do – I was a dancer in our high school musicals (which where HUGE affairs!) both junior and senior year.

      I can’t imagine having PE everyday! I’m glad we only had it twice a week (I think…) We had a pool because we had both boy and girl swim teams and they were very competitive. Our high school was huge and kind of a powerhouse in Western Pennsylvania sports.

      We had one big shower room in the locker room that had shower heads all around it. I seem to remember hearing about the communal showers in 9th grade (our high school was 10 through 12) so the dread started well before I even got to high school! Again, there is enough angst associated with HS that they really didn’t need to add more! I never remember being razzed – we were all just so humiliated… I think everybody just kept their heads down, gritted their teeth and endured it.


  13. You really nailed the mood here. I was laughing and crying at the same time. I went from the shelter and modesty of 8 years of Catholic school and no phys ed, right into one of those communal showers, Olympic pools, and fully furnished gymnastics theaters. Oh, the horror of it all. 9th grade nightmares…I still have flashbacks. Thanks for the memories….I think ??? ☺ Van

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh my word ! This was a great post and thank you so much for sharing . Sure does bring back those memories of those horrid gym uniforms. Must of been same era . Gym class being forced to participate for sports. I was no good at em at all. The whole swimming pool time the absolute same as well. Thanks again for sharing. Looking forward to more..

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I remember those bad old days, but our gym suits were blue. I was a bookish, small-boned, anemic kid with lousy motor skills and slow reflexes – just not cut out for PE. I don’t recall that I learned much from PE or that it did much to improve my motor skills and reflexes. To this day, I have an amazing ability to trip on flat surfaces and to walk into walls.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was not bookish, small-boned or anemic, BUT I still had lousy motor skills and slow reflexes. And now that you mention it, I really didn’t learn anything in PE other than how to hate it. I took tennis lessons one summer through a school summer program and learned more in those 6 weeks than I did in 3 years of hellish PE. Too bad really because there was a quasi-athlete inside of me waiting to be encouraged by the right teacher in the right sport.

      Be careful Dr. M! Don’t hurt yourself – the blogging world needs you!


    • Ah yes – you had a similar experience. No fun at the time, but then again I realize that there were probably more people like us than we imagine. I believe we learned a lot from our experiences of isolation that have help us survive and thrive as adults!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I didn’t grow up in the 60’s, but you hit the nail on the head so hard it speaks to all generations.

    Gym was especially humiliating being an inflexible girl and having all the grace of a dog walking on its hind legs. But hey, we can’t all be athletes!

    I used to think a high school with a pool would be the “coolest thing ever” …but in hindsight, I might have dodged a bullet. Your experience hardly inspires envy 😛

    Liked by 1 person

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  18. A close friend of mine who I grew up with and I were just reminiscing about school earlier today and gym class was one of the topics. I graduated in 1994 and my senior year of high school was the last year that group showering in gym class was mandatory. Lucky me, right?

    My middle school started with the 6th grade and ran through grade 8. We were required to strip naked after each and every gym class, walk naked through the locker room to the open shower room and spend a minimum of 5 minutes showering.

    The showers were all out in the open, just a bunch of shower heads lined up on two walls. The teacher would stand there and watch us as we showered, and if she thought that we had spent less than 5 minutes showering, she would send us back in for another few minutes.

    Anyone else who I’ve ever spoken with about school gym classes has always said that their gym classes were always segregated by grades. If you were in the 6th grade you only had gym class with other 6th graders, if you were in the 7th grade you only had gym with other 7th graders. Which is how it should be in my opinion.

    Not my stupid school district. They thought it appropriate to have a mixture of 6th, 7th and 8th graders all in the same gym classes. Guess what that meant?
    It meant that you had 6th grade girls who had no breasts or pubic hair showering along side 7th and 8th grade girls who had sometimes quite large breasts and pubic hair

    The 8th grade girls would quite often prance around in the nude like they were on a nude beach or something. Many of them seemed to like to make the 6th grade girls and some 7th grade girls uncomfortable with the obvious differences in body development.

    You would think that girls who had been 6th graders themselves in the past would empathize with the current 6th graders and not flaunt the obvious differences? But many of the girls that were in my grade went on to do the same thing when they were 8th graders.

    My high school also required group showers after each gym class in all 4 years. It was the year after I graduated that the school district dropped the mandatory showers rule.
    Although, my sister who is two years younger than me said that most girls still chose to shower after gym class all of the way through her senior year. Oh, by the way, that reminds me that when I was in the 8th grade my sister was a 6th grader sharing the same shower room with me. We were always close growing up and shared a bedroom and bathroom at home, so we were used to seeing each other nude at home, but I would imagine that it would be awkward for some sisters who weren’t accustomed to being nude around each other?

    The girls showers in high school were on polls with 4 shower heads per poll. That meant that every girl had another girl facing her as she showered. And again, you would sometimes have freshman girls having to shower in front of fully developed senior girls. Although the high school girls were more mature and didn’t go out of their way to embarrass anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

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