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.”
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:
- 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.
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.
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!”
“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.
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 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!