Gym Class Could Have Used Compassion, or a Hockey Stick

Deb Beaupre
 (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Deb Beaupre (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

The reason certain people hate sports can be found rooted in physical education class.

There we played games like Red Rover, in which 25 kids formed unbreakable links by locking hands or arms side-by-side and one lone kid tries to break through running straight at them (read: concussion). Or there was Bombardment, where one kid can be shelled by a thousand kickballs at one time (read: multiple contusions).

This was what passed for fun in the ’70s as a break from Dick and Jane and being force-fed the metric system.

Perhaps negative attitudes about athletics came from the gym teachers who delighted in saying things like, “Ok, gang: Today, boys versus girls!” Years of gender research has taught us how damaging that kind of thing was, pitting males against females. And we know that it gave unfair advantage to those with raging testosterone and better hand-eye coordination.

Did you ever think about the fact that gym class was the only time in grade school where a teacher wasn’t nurturing and caring, where they seemed to have an evil glint in their eye at your apparent unease? They didn’t offer encouragement and support; easing you into something slowly, they told you: “Hurry it up, the line’s getting long behind you.” I hated every President growing up for his stupid tests which always seemed designed to humiliate, and, by the way, fell on a day that I was wearing tights.

In addition, certain body types are actually designed for athletics. Mine isn’t one of them.

It wasn’t in 1975, and it still isn’t in 2000-and-menopause. I can remember marveling at the boys who pulled their T-shirts over their heads from behind, thinking even then that that was such a cool trick when it was shirts versus skins.

In literally two seconds, they were ready for action. I can’t get a hat off in that time.

Gym seemed created especially for bullies who never missed a day of school and who made sure not to be suspended or even sitting in the principal’s office during class. And they were always gunning for me. I was the one who never quite heard the directions, who was a little late getting into position, and I wore glasses.

So there I was, skinny, knobby-kneed, four-eyed, not sure what the rules were and where the ball was going or what to do when it came my way — and of course it came to me and I was supposed to catch it … and it always seemed to whack me upside the head.

I screamed and ran to the teacher, holding my face, crying that my glasses were not only broken but probably partly enmeshed in my eye socket. Without looking up from the action, she told me I was fine and get back in there and stop complaining. “No, I’m sure I am blinded. There is glass in my EYE, Miss Fitzpatrick, can I please go see the nurse?” I wailed.

“No,” she said, finally turning to me. “You’re fine, Nunnally. Now cut it out and get back over there.”

I was so surprised that she’d:

∎ Looked directly at me;

∎ Called me by my last name;

∎ Seemed angry at me and;

∎ Was making me go back.

The slugger who’d sent that ball over at me with such force was none other than my nemesis, a girl of about 12 years of age in the second grade. She had an arm like Serena Williams, was about her size, too, and since everyone was afraid to death of her — even the boys — no one ever told on her.

I don’t know why teachers never asked her to tone down the speed or ferocity of her throwing. Maybe she was such a great natural athlete that she was so pleasurable to watch, the body count of her victims were just taken as collateral damage.

The other thing about gym back then — and school in general — was that anything went; kids could say just about anything to each other during play. So when I screwed up, I’d hear: “You stupid idiot! Didn’t you see that coming, dummy?”

Or they would holler, “Easy out!” when certain poor athletes got up to bat, or cut kids in line during ups for kick ball and yell, “Sucker!” right out loud in front of the teacher. And nobody did, said or really even thought anything about it. It was just the way it was.

I hated gym and every gym teacher with all the passion of a 7-year-old.

All that changed for me when I got to junior high, which was when I was introduced to a game called floor hockey; a stick, a puck and sneaks.

I was a maniac for floor hockey from day one. I could run really fast and I had a lot of energy and, apparently, a lot of pent-up frustration. Because pretty soon, everyone wanted me on their team. Nothing stopped or fazed me: I felt no pain because no one got near me to give me any. I loved banging into kids and smashing the stick against the floor.

If my town ever creates an old-time PE class night for grown-ups, I may go to dodgeball and all the rest of it because my old-school bully doesn’t know where I live and won’t show up. But I will definitely be there when it’s floor hockey night, where I will once again dominate — unless my back goes out.

Then everyone will be calling me Debbie Fl-Orr.