Tales From A Hungry Life

January 28, 2012

Indoor Sports

By Maria Schulz

Even though this winter hasn’t been nearly as bad as last year’s, it has forced us indoors for things we would normally do outdoors. Take, for instance, my daughter’s recreation and gym classes at school.

When it’s just too cold, the kids have to do all of their playing in the gym. This is okay by them, but leads to homework assignments titled “Should Dodge Ball be Banned?” or “Why We Should Never Hit our Friends with a Handball.”

These kids look way too happy

When asked if dodge ball should be banned, the athletic, strong kids usually say things like “No! Dodge ball is a great way to get exercise and have fun with your classmates. It teaches you how to make decisions and prioritize. It shows you that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”

The weak, crying kids usually say things like, “OMG, NOT DODGE BALL! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ANYTHING BUT DODGE BALL!”

It brought back lots of memories of my own gym classes in Catholic grammar school and public high school. Sometimes they were fun, and sometimes I got hit in the head with a handball.

I spent many, many periods in gym class running for my life because the boys saw me as an easy target. It seemed obvious to me that their greatest goal was to throw the ball hard enough to decapitate me.

I can still see the deranged look in my classmate George’s eyes as he lined me up in his sights and threw that ball at me like it was shot out of a cannon. I saw my short life flash before my eyes so often that it started to feel like the 4:30 Movie.

Of course, it didn’t help that my gym teachers had never read any books with titles like “How to be Fair” and “The Way to Make Gym Fun.” Instead, I’m pretty sure that their books had titles like “Never Interfere Until the Hemorrhaging Won’t Stop” and “When In Doubt, Look Away.”

Someone had the bright idea of creating boys vs. girls competitions. Hey, what a fun idea! It was particularly clever since some of the boys were already over 6 feet tall and even the ones who were small had a rocket thrower for an arm. Although some of the girls were also tall, they ran with spaghetti arms and wouldn’t throw the ball.

“Why aren’t you throwing the ball?” I would scream from the ground where I crouched behind the rolled up volleyball net, like a soldier engaged in trench warfare.

“Oh I can’t throw the ball at John,” Sandy would answer. “I like him.”

Having grown up with six boys, I couldn’t understand that logic. I liked all of my brothers, but if they were throwing balls at me with the intent to kill, I threw back. Ironically, none of the boys let this worrisome “like” concept bother them. If they liked you, they threw the balls harder.

Later, in the locker room, the girls would say things like:

“Johnny smashed me in the head TWICE! I think he likes me.”

“So why don’t you throw it back and show him that you like him?”  I would say.

Great outrage would fill the room. “She can’t do that! Then he’ll never ask her out!”

As far as I was concerned, any boy who wanted to leave giant bruises all over me was not marriage material. All I wanted to do was get out of that class in one piece, not find a life partner.

Dodge Ball helped me learn a lot of important life skills. For instance:

What I learned from Dodge Ball

  • Never let an opportunity pass you by. When the game begins, many gym teachers take the opportunity to slip off to the side of the gym and have a conversation with any other adult they can find. I would seize the moment and slip into any nearby closets until a few minutes had passed, and then join the other girls who were bruised and “out” on the sidelines.
  • Stick close to people who are bigger than you. This works in all walks of life, but especially in dodge ball. The best targets are the big ones. Besides, I could run the whole time behind those kids and still manage not to get hit. The only time this strategy was a problem was in the 7th grade, when I was the biggest girl in the class.
  • Throw yourself on the mercy of the court. Actually finding your gym teacher and telling her that you were sick, had a headache, or were sleepy because you’d been up all night taking care of your sick [grandma, puppy, orphaned friend] could often get you out of anything
  • Bring a snack. These were helpful when you were hiding in the closet and waiting for the first round of victims to sit on the sidelines so you could make believe you were one of them. Pretzels, a block of cheese, or an apple are portable and take long enough to eat so that you are busy for a while.
  • Revenge is sweet, but payback is just worse next time. I would get a big kick out of getting the ball and throwing it at George and all of the other boys who so enjoyed hitting me when it was their turn. But the thing was, the next time, they would be sure to get me before I could run and hide in the closet.

The only time I ever saw the boys in my class squirm was when our gym teacher decided to teach us The Hustle. The girls all lined up with broad smiles on their faces. We seemed to understand the natural laws of rhythm and musicality. The boys, on the other hand, looked like they were about to have their tonsils ripped out without anesthesia.

If this were a culling exercise in the wild, you would have definitely been able to tell whose feathers were the best and who got to pass on their genes to the next generation. From the looks of things, it wouldn’t have been most of my classmates.

Eventually, our gym teachers would get tired of holding the dance class and they would say: “Who wants to play dodge ball?”

“We do!” the boys yelled as they dashed towards the balls, and I tried to find a new place to hide.

Now, you may think after reading this post that I am not a fan of dodge ball. On the contrary, I think it holds a valuable place in the evolutionary scheme of things. I absolutely learned that not everyone liked me, or was going to treat me like I was the greatest thing to ever happen to Western Civilization. Not that anyone ever had before or since, but just in case I was feeling overly confident, there was nothing like dodge ball to give me a great big reality check.

Secondly, I doubt if “coddled” or “poor decision-maker” are terms that would ever be applied to me, since I sharpened my survival skills throughout childhood. I had no choice but to hone my gift for making snap decisions, like: can I slip into that closet over there without being noticed? And “Is Lillian slower than me? Can I hide behind her?”

Finally, I believe that all kids should experience what I did, because hey, I had to. Why should they get off easy?

High school gym classes were a bit more complicated. I suddenly was in a school with a population that was ten times that of my elementary school, and finally, they separated the boys and girls. I thought that this would solve my problems, but suddenly I discovered how relentlessly violent girls could be. Hell hath no fury like a competitive girl who gets stuck with you on her team—especially if you stink at whatever she’s playing.

There was one girl who was incensed by my inability to take Aerobics dance class seriously. She became outraged when we were put into a group together and had to come up with an Aerobics dance routine set to a popular song.

I wanted to exercise to “Tainted Love” and she wanted to exercise to “Beat It.” The other girls in our group were willing to go along with her, because she was very large and muscular and threatening. I eventually gave in, but enraged her since she felt my lack of commitment to learning how to moonwalk to “Beat It” was a good reason to beat me up.

Too many steps

She came up to me in the locker room and said, “You’re going to moonwalk, or I’m going to hit you.”

I learned another great life skill at this time: when someone is crazy and wants to hurt you, try to make them laugh and buy enough time to get away from them.

“Go ahead and hit me,” I said. “Maybe that will help me moonwalk.”

“Haaaahaaaahaaa,” she said, as she slapped me on the back a little too enthusiastically. “You’re funny.”

Lucky for me, she stopped coming to Aerobics class. I like to think she went on to devote her life to following Michael Jackson, and is now busy perfecting the art of moon-walking.

My time of trials did not end there. There was the day in Mrs. Berger’s class when she gave pairs of girls the same number. When she called your number, you were supposed to run out to meet the other person and try to kick the soccer ball away from her.

So, Mrs. Berger called out “Two!” and I ran out. The girl who was also “Two” ran out to meet me. She was about two feet taller than me and possibly two hundred pounds heavier. I decided she could kick the ball wherever she wanted.

My classmate, "Two"

Mrs. Berger blew the whistle and I watched the girl prance away with the soccer ball. The teacher blew the whistle again. “I don’t want you to just stand there. At least try to get it!”

She blew the whistle, and I made a half-hearted attempt to get the ball. Before my adversary could run away, Mrs. Berger blew the whistle again.

“Listen,” she screamed. “I will keep calling ‘two’ for the rest of this period if you don’t start hustling. When I blow this whistle, you had better get that ball!”

Kick the Ball!

“All right,” I said, as Sasquatch and I went back to square up to the ball.

“Go!” Mrs. Berger said, as she made that whistle shriek.

I lurched forward and tried to get the ball, but my adversary swung her leg backward and tried to kick the ball hard enough to launch it to the moon. Unfortunately, she missed the ball and hit my foot instead.

Is it possible to kick someone's toe off?

I thought my big toe exploded.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA,” I screamed, as I fell to the ground. I was afraid to take my sneaker off, because I was sure my toe would roll out.

“Get up,” Mrs. Berger said. “Stop being a baby.”

“My toe! I think she kicked off my toe,” I shrieked.

“Get up and get back into the game,” Mrs. Berger said, “or I’ll fail you.”

I managed to get up right in time for the bell to ring, and I hobbled around for the rest of the day. I kept calling my mother for a ride, but when I couldn’t reach her, I had to walk home.

When I finally got to the house, I crawled up the front steps and collapsed in the living room. My mother found me alternately sobbing and laughing on the living room floor.

“What happened to you?” my mother said.

In between bouts of hysteria, I blurted out the whole sorry story.

“I’ll get the scissors,” my mother said. She was always prepared and stoic in a crisis situation. She cut my shoe off to find that my foot now resembled an elephant’s hoof.

My foot following soccer drills

My toe did not roll out.

After I returned to school a couple of days later, I gave Mrs. Berger the doctor’s note that excused me from gym. She shrugged.

“Why didn’t you say something?” she said.

“I thought the screaming said it all,” I replied.

As I sat on the sidelines that day, eating a block of cheese I’d brought from home for just this occasion, I smiled. A broken big toe was a small price to pay for getting to sit out of dodge ball that day.


Say “cheese!” A cheese plate is always a hit at parties. It’s a shame I wasn’t allowed to bring wine to gym class, but there’s nothing like making up for lost time.

The Wine & Cheese Plate


Here’s another recipe that looks delicious—I love goat cheese! It reminds me of one of my favorite books from childhood: Heidi.


So, Hungry Lifers: do you have any stories about your favorite indoor sports? What was your worst gym class moment? Keep it funny, keep it clean, and please leave a comment below. Thanks!



  1. You are so funny Maria. Ok,this was the worst for me. We had to wear our gym shorts(red with white piping) under our uniforms. It made me look fatter than i already did. They always creeped up on my and landed in my groin. My legs had nothing to protect them from each other so a rash was always present. When I would run in gym I would often recite the words”buba, buba” to myself. Something I just assumed everyone else was thinking about me. When I got to high school I always asked to be the captain so I wasn’t the last one picked. While you were in a closet eating( boy I wish I could have ben with you), I often relied on my forged notes from my mother simply saying I had my period and could not participate.
    I don’t want to offend anyone reading this so one day I will tell you about my sons college essay. It was about his high school gym teacher. Thanks for your post, I always get excited when I see you wrote something.

    Comment by Suzanne — January 28, 2012 @ 2:42 pm | Reply

  2. By the way, I am a really good hustle dancer. We should dance together.:)

    Comment by Suzanne — January 28, 2012 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

  3. Fun post, Maria! I remember getting clocked in the head a few times with a small pink Spalding ball. We played kick ball, too, in the school yard in the middle of winter in shorts. Fond memories!

    Comment by Lisa — January 28, 2012 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

  4. Bring a snack to dodgeball? Why did I never think of that…

    Comment by turafish — January 28, 2012 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

  5. Back, Way Back in the day, we didn’t have dodge ball. We had something similar but we couldn’t try to dodge. We played Chinese Handball. I forget all the rules but about ten of us would each have a box and the first box was what we all wanted. We’d slap bounce the ball from box to box and the one who missed got a point. The loser would have to go asses up which meant bending over on ones knees with you know what facing everyone. Then maybe 20 boxes away the rest of the guys would throw the ball as hard as they could up against you know what. When they were finished, if they were good and you lost, you didn’t sit much until the bruising and red went away. This wasn’t an official game, it was usually played at lunch time in the schoolyard before returning to school. At least once a week after school there was a fight where we’d make a circle and yell and scream as two of our schoolmates would punch the hell out of each other. Some teachers would try to break this up but most walked away. Girls did not play these games or watch, however the guys were always looking for the ones who might watch because sometimes tomboys were more fun. If you get my gist?

    Comment by Bglou — January 28, 2012 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  6. Maria, I don’t remember if it was junior high or high school but there was this young gym teacher named Ms. Tully who started gym class by playing this old scratchy record called “chicken fat”. I hated that song and the exercises she made us do to it. If any gym teacher dared to play that today , they would get sued for harassment and emotional distress.

    Comment by Stacy — January 28, 2012 @ 10:59 pm | Reply

    • I don’t remember Ms. Tully or Chicken Fat, and as you can see I remember all past moments of torture. It must have been junior high! Thank you Stacy, at last I feel lucky to have missed something.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — March 4, 2012 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

      • It probably was junior high. It just goes to show you that I did not wait till high school to be self-conscious about my thunder thighs!!

        All the best, Maria. I always look forward to reading everything you write!

        Comment by Stacy Deitelzweig — March 5, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  7. To this day, I still tap out the steps to “The Hustle” with my right hand when I am doing bills or on the computer. Whilst eating, driving or on the couch. I do it so subtly, One wouldn’t even be able to observe me doing it. One two, front, one two, back, etc. Looking back I think we had fun with it but never wanted to admit that. The boys against the girls in dodge ball were not the greatest games. If we could have got the students against some of the faculty, I would have loved that. Just imagine standing alone, one on one, after everyone was eliminated, facing St. Grace Ann? At the time, (not now since I have gone back to the church and have forgiven all past slights towards me), I would have stamped “The Hustle” all over her face! I would have been nicer to Jack Soo! (Only Maria and some St. Robert’s people will get that reference. But trust me, Maria is falling out of her chair as she reads this!)
    Chinese Handball sounds stupid! Stupider than Dodge ball! Ah the fruit of the “Greatest Generation! Come to think of it, I can see the wisdom of Chinese Handball. That would have been a better game to play against the faculty. Poor, Sr. Clara wouldn’t have a chance.

    Comment by Chris — January 29, 2012 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  8. I used to love dodge ball… what does that tell you about me? Great insights!!

    Comment by caroline bock — February 6, 2012 @ 7:17 pm | Reply

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