Make phys ed fun for everyone!

October 10, 2021

I dreaded gym class! Last picked for teams; it was torture! Not that I really cared, possessing a strong inner reality. It didn't help that we had a martinet of a gym teacher at my high school for a year or two. She made us wear military insignias on the sleeves of our white uniforms. Of course, I was a private. It didn't help that I wore heavy jewelry over my gym suit.

She would stomp up and down, yelling in our faces like a drill sergeant, wearing her wrap-around sunglasses. There are still passages in old yearbooks like Norse sagas about her short reign. I won't even talk about the showers. I never even worked up a sweat.

My locker was a mess with the dreaded white gym suit stuffed unceremoniously inside. The padlock was a symbol of the whole atmosphere, or of being locked in an unathletic body. When it came time to climb the rope, I refused! Get rope burns on these artistic hands? I took a “gentlewoman's” F.

I was already a ballet drop-out. The teacher, Madame Lanotta, gave out sequins and rhinestones at the end of each class. All I could think about was the grand mummer-like costume, gaudy with gems and feathers, that I would fashion if I ever lasted long enough to earn enough. I spent the last few minutes of class on my knees sweeping the glittery treasure off the shining floor with a jar in hand.

Not to be outdone, my mother joined the class of 12-year-olds with a bow in her hair, a scarf around her waist, and pearls the size of golf balls around her neck. And I have the photos to prove it. At that point, I called it quits, and the gaudy costume was saved for much later in life.

I did enjoy roller skating and frequented the skating rink above the old movie theater that once stood on Rehoboth Avenue in the 1950s. I could even skate backward! I had my own skates with pom-poms, a cute skirt with French poodles, and a shiny pink trunk to carry them in. I especially enjoyed the Yahoo chocolate drinks. My father drove me and a girlfriend there every other Friday night.

In college in New Mexico, I had another athletic setback. I needed to pass one physical education class. Desert-born, land-locked girls passed swimming class without batting an eyelash, but a girl raised on the beach by the Atlantic Ocean dodging waves flunked! I tried square dancing with the same female teacher and flunked that, too.

Then I wised up, thinking that a male teacher might be more sympathetic, so I signed up for bowling. I walked blocks to the edge of town (exercise I could actually accomplish) to the bowling alley, Tumbleweed Lanes. I finally passed after sending several bowling balls swerving across the lanes. The score card had been as much a mystery to me as algebra, but the male teacher took pity on me and gave me a passing grade, for my one “successful” phys ed requirement.

However, now I have developed impressive upper-body strength from squeezing hundreds of tubes of puffy paint. It's served me well. Once, years ago, I fell through a ground-level roof chasing after my cat, Rustbelt, through the snow in winter. I pulled myself out of the hole I was about to fall through, despite declining to climb the rope in gym class back in high school.

Anyway, my mother, a teacher herself, once spoke a simple truth. "Gym teachers should try and make everyone like something about gym class." To all of the gym teachers out there, I ask you to think of something. I know that you have tournaments and games to win, but please try to be kind and patient, as I know you don't really want to alienate any children. The gymnasium with its shiny hardwood floors, painted circles and netted hoops is an arena where the glaring light on the gym-reluctant can become a lifelong phobia for some.

Fortunately, it wasn't passed down to the next generation in my case. My twin sons played multiple sports in high school, including lacrosse, wrestling, football and golf. One even majored in sports and became a middle school principal, to my amazement.

Today, my biggest physical challenge is climbing the big hill in Milton – maybe the only hill in Sussex County – on one of my infrequent walks. Once I was even carrying a box of frames on my head from a yard sale. A friendly neighbor in an SUV asked if I needed a ride home, but I politely declined. No, I would prevail and walk the remaining distance to my back door. "Take that!" I said under my breath to my high school gym teacher. "I can do something athletic after all!" I have never had to bounce, hit, or throw a ball in my life, thank goodness!

  • Pam Bounds is a well-known artist living in Milton who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art. She will be sharing humorous and thoughtful observations about life in Sussex County and beyond.

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