Gym Class

Physical Education at its finest
November 07, 2008

All right, time to get your sorry lazy butts back to the gym, elementary school style that is. You know the place where you ate lunch that doubled as a cafeteria and cultural hall for school programs, plays, and assemblies.
Well the other reason for that room was for Physical Education.

Time for some stretching of that memory muscle. I want 15 push-ups and 15 sit-ups. 30 jumping jacks and a 3 laps around the gym. Let's go people. GO, GO, GO!

When I was in school I was told that P.E. class was to develop personal fitness, socialization, team building, motor skills, etc. All I really thought was that it was a welcome break from math and a chance to play...


P.E. was a time to learn the rules and play organized sports. All of the basics were covered.

Basketball and endless ball dribbling relays. We were so short in the younger grades that most kids couldn't even make a basket so they just had us dribble and pass.

Soccer (Football for you international readers) was played endlessly at recess. Yeah we were taught the rudimentary rules in gym class but at recess time it was an all out battle. Thirty or more kids to a team with no fixed positions except every player as a wanna be ball hog. Dozens of little kicking feet all trying to get the ball, mostly getting shins. Kids moving en-masse down the field towards the goal. Suddenly the ball is kicked free and little bodies are shoved aside as the faster players sprint after it. Some cherry picker is in the back field and starts yelling kick it to me. The goalie forgets his post and rushes into the fray. I remember this one kid sprinting to intercept the pass while looking over his shoulder who ran full-boot tilt into the soccer post of the goal. Talk about a goose-egg.

Flag Football (American Football without tackling). We were forced to try to grab a flag threaded through a belt loop or tucked into a waistband instead of tackling the person with the ball. We were told it was to prevent injuries but really it was so the school could avoid buying expensive safety equipment or paying out huge settlements for liability lawsuits. There was always one cheater that would tie his flag on to avoid the "tackle" and we would end up tackling him for real anyways to get the ball away from him.

Tee-Ball was baseball without a pitcher. The ball was just placed on a post and the kids just hit it off. Not nearly as satisfying as connecting with a thrown pitch. The kids in the outfield were bored watching butterflies, staring at clouds, searching for four leafed clovers while waiting for any batter to connect at all with the ball. Choke up, choke up some more, keep your eye on the ball. Swing, miss, swing, miss, swing, a wobble and the ball falls off the tee.

Volleyball played with an over-sized ball or beach ball with towering five foot nets. Bump, bump, catch, hey you can't catch, throw, bump. There is no setting or spiking when you are only 3 1/2 feet tall.

Outdoor Games

Kick ball is a glorious mix of baseball and soccer. You kick a rubber four square ball as it is rolled/pitched to you. There is a satisfying bwwoiiinnnggg sound as you boot the ball into the stratosphere and another as it bounces off of the chest of the person of who tried to catch it as you race around the bases with a dopey grin.

Four Square. There were the general rules like not being allowed to touch the ball before it bounced but having to hit it before it bounced twice and hitting it into another players square and not out of bounds. Then there were the playground rules. It seemed like most were made up on the spot to trump whatever move was used against you. Prior to serving you called out your special power and delivered it to your unsuspecting victim as soon as the words left your lips. I was a master of the cherry bomb (spiking the ball down as hard as you can in their square causing the ball to sky rocket upward making it nearly impossible to hit), the chicken feet (serving directly at their feet causing them to move to avoid being hit and making it hard to return while off balance), Black Magic (throwing the opposite way than expected), and the defensive move Poison (catching the ball before it bounced and announcing poison would make the thrower out).

Ultimate Frisbee. Sort of American football mixed with a soccer game using a frisbee instead of a ball.

One of my favorites was the GIANT BALL!

The one I remember had the continents on it like a giant globe and we called it the world ball. Turns out they are actually called cage balls (who knows why, there is no cage involved). They come in all kinds of various sizes even up to 72 inches in diameter.

You probably were not supposed to get up on top of them but we did anyways. We even tried to walk on top as they were rolling but inevitably would fall off as they were jostled around by people on the ground. I remember some people falling off and being run over by it.

I think the actual purpose was to learn teamwork to push the ball around the field or to move it overhead.


Medicine Balls were these insanely heavy (for kids anyway) leather or vinyl covered balls that were supposed to be used for strength training. They can weigh up to 25 lbs. Woe unto the child who thought it was a regular ball and tried to kick one. They were usually filled with sand and the kid would just about break his foot. I remember standing in a line back to back and passing these balls along while twisting at the waist to the next person and also tossing them for short distances to a partner.

Gym scooters, belly boards or whatever these are actually called were basically just a plank of wood with some castor wheels on the bottom. You could not use them as a skateboard because the castors swiveled independently and would quickly dump you on your butt. There was basically no steering the things either.

The scooters were an exercise tool to strengthen leg muscles by propelling yourself or arm muscles by pulling yourself along not using your legs. You could get a running go at it though and go the length of the gym to smash into the wall in a unexpected direction as the thing spun madly out of control.

Pull-up bar or Chin-up if you prefer was a prerequisite in most fitness tests they designed for us. This one is outside but there was usually some mounted on the wall of the gymnasium as well. Usually so high up that you had to jump or be helped up by the teacher. Boys did pull-ups with their palms facing away using mostly back muscles and girls did chin-ups with the palms facing toward you using mostly biceps.

Peg Boards were another exercise device that you had to pull your body weight up by moving these wooden pegs into holes in a board bolted to the wall. The one in my school was long and skinny and not square like this one. It was actually kind of fun to see how high you could get but eventually you would burn out and let go or fumble trying to get the peg in the hole and drop to the floor.

The rope climb. Most gyms had these huge 30 to 40 foot ropes hung from the ceiling. You were expected to hold onto a rough nylon or hemp rope and scale up all the way to the top and then slowly muscle down. Most kids couldn't go more than ten feet off the deck. I however was a little monkey and could climb all the way to the top and see all of the dust on the roof rafters (that wasn't actually dust but a fire suppression system but I didn't know that then). I knew that if my arms gave out and I plummeted to the floor no three inches of foam mat would save me. If you slid down fast with your hands you would get rope burn. I would muscle down part way then slide using mostly my feet for support the rest of the way.

Most schools now have climbing walls instead. Like this cool one that traverses across an entire wall.

Ribbons I can't remember what they were used for but I remember having them so here they are. I do remember making tornado like spirals with them.

The Parachute! All of the kids would grab a handle at the outer edge and shake it for fast ripples or long and slow for slow waves. We would put it high above our heads to make a circus tent and sometimes rush inside before it slowly came down. We would play ring-around-the-rosie or just run around the circle making a sickening swirl effect on the pattern. We would even put things like bean bags or beach balls in the center and launch them with a quick snap or pass them to each other across the parachutes using the waves.

The bean bags were also used in relay races.

And of course jump ropes. I always wanted to master that quick jump rope technique that Rocky does in Rocky III while training to fight Clubber Lang (Mr.T) but never mastered it.

Indoor Activities

First off I know that several of the pictures of the "indoor activities" are outdoors but you use what pictures you can find and obviously they can and usually are played indoors.

There are a ton of different versions of tag and we probably played them all during P.E. and recess. If you scroll back up to the very first picture you will see that it is a tag game and no I do not know why the kid has several balls stuffed in his jersey.

Floor Hockey. With plastic sticks and a puck it was a lot of fun. Until that is my twin brother got a high stick to the face and began bleeding profusely and had to be rushed to get stitches. It landed right next to his eye and he still has a scar to this day. I of course quickly got myself into trouble by blindsiding the kid who did it and pummeling him. Yeah it was probably an accident but at the time I didn't think so.

I have no idea what these kids are doing. Maybe it's bowling mixed with broom ball?

The crab walk. Used mostly as a warm up exercise I remember doing races across the gym scurrying along like a crustacean. We also had indoor soccer games where you had to crab walk the entire time.

The Bear Crawl was another warm up exercise sometimes called an elephant walk.

Like crab walking you could also play indoor soccer using the gym scooters.

Dodge ball was my favorite game in P.E. hands down. This picture pretty much sums it up two teams can't cross the line and look at the coward hiding behind his friend as ole number 34 gets ready to pulverize him. My favorite version of dodge ball was three step and was usually played with a Nerf football. There was no dividing line and you could take three steps once you gained possession of the ball to attack someone else. They usually were three good leaps however. It was straight elimination and you couldn't catch the ball to bring someone back in that was out and you wouldn't want to anyways since it was everyone against everyone. For every person that got out another step was added until it was just two in a face off with 35 steps across the gym between them.

And now for that kid torture device, the diabolism known as...
Square and Line Dancing

Bloodcurdling screams as the banjo music starts up.

Now grab your partner don't be shy,
you're forced to learn this and you don't know why.
Do-si-do and back around,
the worst kid torture there is to be found.
Allemande left and Promenade right,
learn it correctly or we'll be here all night.
All join hands and .. sorry I can't do that anymore.
What was the point of making us learn to square dance? So that we would be forced to hold the sweaty hand of our partner? So we would be humiliated when forced to preform our dance for our parents while wearing cowboy hats and scarfs as our younger siblings laughed still comfortably years away from their own impeding square dance doom?

They even made us learn line dancing.

In my school I learned the Virginia Reel. I can't tell you how many times I have used it since, some real quality education there.

Field Day!

You've earned it. Usually the last day of the school year would be a field day that was reserved for playing games all day long. They usually made the students clean the classroom and the desks and chairs before the festivities began however.

Heads up Seven up was usually the game to start things off because you had to start the day at your desk anyways. You put your head down and closed your eyes while sticking your thumb up. Seven people would then roam around and randomly pick seven people and put their thumbs down. The seven picked had to guess who had picked them. If they guessed correctly they could be up. Everyone pretty much cheats during this game. You put your head in the crook of your elbow but never closed your eyes and carefully examined the shoes of the the seven up as they passed by so you could pick correctly. The younger the age the worse the cheating got, with some just blatantly looking at people and the teacher reminding them, "If I can see your eyes they can too and probably won't pick you".
Then it was outside to the field.

Usually there were several relay races planned and skills courses too. I vividly remember running as fast as my sneakers would fly across the blacktop to place the chalkboard eraser over the line and picking up a replacement and running back to the start.

There were all manner of competitions pitting the students against themselves and against the teachers. Tug-of-War was popular with a few teachers against several children. The children almost always win. My school also had water fights and even a baseball game with students against the teachers. The adults could hit farther but we had better coordination and teamwork and usually won.

Here is a fun looking pass the wet sponge game.

The ever popular sack races and three legged races were always a blast.

Games of every sort; eggs on spoons, filling up water buckets and running without spilling, tossing water balloons with increasing distance until they burst, and even a teacher dunk tank.

There were also usually treats provided like popcorn and Popsicles. Some schools even did an all out carnival with games and rides and cotton candy.

See ya next year coach!

Until next time...
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