14 December, 2013

Phys. Ed.

I didn't dislike PE as a kid but I wasn't good at sports.  Like everything else in my life I'm mediocre.  I usually passed PE with an A; a person would have to be pretty bad to not get an A in PE.  Even for someone like myself who is horrible at any sport that involves striking one object with another.  It comes as no surprise that swimming was something I was pretty good at.  I only participated in two sports throughout my time in school.  Both eighth and ninth grades I was on the swim team and in ninth grade I was on the golf team.  I got a pretty darn good life lesson from my Dad during my first year on the swim team.  The junior high I attended (opened in 1923 and now closed) had two pools.  Neither were "regulation" size.  The junior high swimming season started in January.  Being an old building, insulation was not part of the original design.  One of the walls around that tiny pool was an outside wall.  Not a big deal if we were talking about Florida, but this was in Wisconsin.  In January.  We started daily practices in this tiny pool and when the high school (which I later attended) was done with their swim season we had to find our own way to that pool.  So every day after school I would walk two miles, in January, February and March to the high school for practice.  The high school we practiced at had a pool unlike the other pools in the city.  Every other pool (the tiny junior high pools included) had decks flush with the water line.  The high school pool's deck was about 1.5' above the water line.  The coaches used that as a training aid.  We did what we called "push pulls."  we would start by holding onto the gutter (at the water line), go under water, pull ourselves up then push ourselves out of the water.  Not a big deal, but that was just the warm-up.  After a series of push pulls from the gutter we had to do them from the deck.  1.5' above the water line.  After that we would perform all manner of drills.  Whole pool lengths under water, whole pool lengths without taking a breath etc.  After a week of being miserably cold, sore and dealing with dry skin (chlorine is really hard on people with already dry skin) I wanted to give up.  A couple of teammates told me to give it just one more week but my mind was made up.  Then I went home after practice and told my parents that I wanted to quit swimming.  My Father said a few short sentences that affected me to this day.  He told me "You started swim team.  You're obligated to finish the season.  I won't go into how that bit of advice changed me.  That's for another post.  I stuck with it and eventually liked it.  I enjoyed being part of a team, I enjoyed the Kameradschaft and I enjoyed the satisfaction I felt at the end of a meet.  So much so that I did it in ninth grade.  I also enjoyed the time I spent with Dad. I rode a bus with the rest of the team to the meets, but usually went home with Dad.  I'm the least sport related kid of my family and I think he was concerned that I wouldn't ever get into any sports.  Sports were important to Dad but don't get me wrong, he never pushed me into it and I didn't do it for him.  He would have supported me in whatever interests I had.  Again, that's for another post.  I think Dad was at every meet.  Can't remember exactly.  One meet that sticks out in my mind was from the ninth grade season.  One particular junior high had the worst starting blocks I've ever seen.  Fiberglass boxes they were.  I don't care how much grip tape they put on them, they were always slippery.  I can't remember what event I was swimming but I was on the block and nervous (always was), waiting for the starting pistol.  The official fired the pistol, I pushed off with all my might... and slipped.  I had zero forward motion because of that slip and hit the water with what was the world's biggest belly flop.  The last thing I heard before hitting the water was Dad yelling "Noooooo!".  It was a bad race.  Very bad.  That same meet coach put me on the 50 butterfly.  He knew I couldn't do the butterfly, I knew I couldn't do the butterfly but he put me on it anyway.  Me trying to swim the butterfly looked more like drowning than it did swimming.  I finished last (by a pool length), got disqualified for not keeping my feet together and generally embarrassed myself.  I imagine the boy Dad saw after that meet had his head hanging very low.  We didn't discuss it, we just got in the car and headed home.  Being my Dad however, he knew I felt horrible.  Even though dinner was going to be waiting at home he stopped by a hamburger joint (long gone I'm sorry to say) and got me a burger to raise my spirits.  Hell of a guy he was.  I eventually made it to the "city meet" and almost won an event for the first time.  I won't go into why I lost right now.  I earned a letter which made me proud of myself.  Junior high ended and I went on to high school.  In tenth grade my former teammates made sure I knew when tryouts were for the swim team.  I passed, they tried to get me to join, I passed again.  Despite being a naive teenager, I knew high school sports were far above the junior high sports.  I stuck to it for eighth and ninth grades, but sports just weren't my thing.  I concentrated on music.  Both of my brothers swam through junior and senior high, Mark also ran cross country and Chris also played foot ball and soccer.  Donna played volleyball and was on the pom pom squad (a whole other arena of athletics).  All of my nieces and nephews have played (or are currently playing) soccer.  Some also played hockey, some football, some softball, track...  I'm the odd duck in our family. 

High school PE was interesting to say the least.  I had "Coach" all three years of high school.  He knew my siblings and, I assume, initially expected the same from me.  It was not to be.  Coach was a good guy but you could definitely see his disdain for students who weren't involved in sports.  Especially football and basketball.  Both of which he coached.  The only time I remember Coach praising me was during the swim unit we had every year.  He always used me as an example of how to do a certain stroke properly.  I always seemed to be the only swimmer in the class.   Hmmm....  Anyway, during tenth grade "swim" Coach saw that I was actually a little better than most at swimming.  He showed me a little more respect after that.  I still sucked at just about everything else, but I could swim well.  He also had a dead-pan sense of humor that is just classic.  One year during the volleyball section someone spiked the ball.  When it rebounded it went directly into my, uh, jewels.  I  hit the floor like a sack of potatoes.  "Not wearing your jockey strap, eh Tim?" he said without  even changing facial expressions.  "Go sit out until you regain your composure."  he said matter of fact.  Coach was a jock who grew up to teach jocks.  He was fair, he was a great coach and just about everyone liked him.  He knew all of his students by name within the first week of the school year but he liked you just a little bit more if you were on one of the teams he coached.  Meh. 

Coach never had anything to do with the "dance" unit when it came around every year.  That was left to the female coaches.  The dance stuff was seriously outdated.  Even in the late '80s they were teaching us the Foxtrot, a waltz and square dancing.  I found it to be a breeze.  I realized in junior high that not all people are capable of dancing.  The forced pairing of boys and girls from all cliques made me realize that the "hot" girls weren't always that great.  A lot of them were pretty, sure, but a surprisingly large amount of them had no concept of rhythm.  None.  They were horrible dance partners.  Thankfully, somewhere along the line Brenda, a girl I had known all through elementary school, always seemed to have PE the same period I did.  Thank God!  She had been in "show" choir and could dance very well.  Much better than myself.  At the very least both Brenda and I had a sense of rhythm.  Her from choir, me from band.  We also had the comfort of familiarity with each other.  I loved dancing extremely outdated dances with her.  We were used as examples quite often and we enjoyed it.  Coach never saw any of that.  After that brief interlude it was back to sports.  As always I was neither good, nor bad.  I enjoyed softball in the spring.  But maybe that's just an American thing.  Baseball, Spring, Mom, apple pie... I definitely didn't like flag football because some of the guys turned it into tackle football.  Pat totally drilled me one morning.  It was no accident.  He plowed right into me and knocked me on my ass. Boy, it hurt something bad.  Coach, barely looking up from his clipboard said something like "Nice hit, Pat.  But we do that on the football team.  Not here.  Five days of detention starting tomorrow."  I never spoke to Pat after that.  It was a cheap shot and it didn't even phase him.  Pat lacked the important thing required of any sport.  Sportsmanship.  Even someone as bad as me was a good sportsman.  Coach saw people like me trying our best and respected that.  He knew about sportsmanship.  He wasn't my favorite teacher, I wasn't his best student but I like the guy to this day.  Simply because he was fair with everyone.

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