From the Archive: Originally posted February 2016
My niece plays on her school basketball team this year and I’ve been attending her weekly games, literally on the edge of my seat every minute. If anyone had told me that these young girls would pound out a game of basketball with the level of passion, skill, and intensity that they do, I wouldn’t have believed it. The games don’t last very long – only four 6-minute periods – but they get the heart racing, the hands raw from clapping, and the hair grayer from watching rim shots in slow motion, and the lightning-fast passes that barely escape interception.
As I watch these girls work together as a team, I can’t help but be mystified, as I always am, by the concept of a sports team and what it must feel like to be part of such a small, fiercely focused group. I’ve never played sports of any kind. Hell, I barely survived high school gym class, which is probably why I’ve never played sports of any kind. Middle and high school gym classes effectively cured me of ever wanting to even try out for a sports team.
Oh, Gym Class, how I hated thee, let me count the ways…
Our school colors were green and white, so of course, some style-conscious administrator thought it would be fabulous to order these little green-and-white-striped onesies for the girls to wear during gym. These cruel jokes were not flattering on anyone, but did provide plenty of fodder for the inevitable battle between our gym teacher and the tough girls who were “too cool” to change for gym. If there was ever a time to envy the Mennonite girls, it was in gym class because their religious convictions prohibited them from changing into those god-awful horrors.
Once we used up all of our three minutes to get from our previous class to the gym, into the locker room, find our locker, dump our books, backpacks and other gear into the bottom, undress in front of each other (no awkwardness there), put on our onesie, change socks and shoes, stuff everything into the locker and slam it shut before it exploded, and get out to the gym floor…. we awaited the day’s torture our evil overlord had planned for us.
My personal favorite was dodge ball. This is where the strongest among us could really take out their aggression on the girls they didn’t like by hurling a rubber ball at them with the intent not just to “tag” you out, but to break bones. Those of us who were uncoordinated and therefore unpopular, usually left gym with red welts on our arms and legs after a harrowing game. Survival of the fittest, thy name is “Dodge ball.”
In a perverted way, dodge ball was an easy game for me because I knew what was expected of me and I could deliver. I was like the unfortunate stranger who’d been captured by a tribe of heathens, dancing and whelping around me while their fires grew hot enough to cook me. As I stood in the middle of the circle, outnumbered by my cocky, hostile classmates, I waited for the inevitable end, which usually came mercifully quick with the sharp, hot sting of rubber.
More difficult were games like volleyball, in which everybody was supposed to participate and contribute to the team’s victory. But keep in mind that making a mistake, missing a shot, or otherwise failing to contribute to the effort would result in hell to pay. Being the consummate klutz that I was, I got derided a lot. Beginning with the classic eye-roll when the team captain had only me leftover to choose for her team, I knew to expect dirty looks, if not open contempt. It was bullying at its finest in a green and white onesie.
The first time I saw professional athletes get high-fived or patted on the ass after a major screw-up, I was astounded and more than a little confused. Why all this support? This is not how it’s supposed to work! I always thought when a teammate made a mistake, you emotionally tar and feather them. You’re supposed to ridicule them and make them realize that their inept gawkiness is the affront against all humanity that it is!
So yes, I admire my niece, or anyone who even considers joining a sports team.
I guess I just never saw the point of gym class. Physical activity that makes you sweaty and smelly for the rest of your day? Sure, that’s every school kid’s dream. And the alternative is taking a community shower, naked in front of your classmates with whom you will share geography class later and the stage at graduation? No. No! A thousand times, no!
In the attack sports like dodge ball, I simply waited for the end. In team sports, my strategy was to hang back as much as possible, probably appearing aloof and uncaring. But in fact, I knew that any attempt at participation on my part would result in complete humiliation for me, and most likely a loss for my team. So I took the global, altruistic approach and did as little as possible, then kept my clothes on afterwards. To my former gym classmates: You’re welcome.