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.