If you grew up in that glorious era known as the mid 80’s through late 90’s (possibly earlier, I’m not an expert on those dark times) you are well acquainted with the ritualistic culling of the weak known as Physical Education. Through wondrous, semi-draconian methods, those 30-to-50 minute classes taught you more about yourself than you probably ever even wanted to know.
The sports you played were straight out of the twisted minds that probably thought Americans would become soccer-crazed in the 70’s. These sports would test your mettle in ways you never thought possible. You probably haven’t thought about some of these sports in years, or you play in an adult rec league that glorifies them. But love or hate, they will always hold a special place in your heart (possibly through layers of scar tissue).
Here are the Top 5 Gym Class Sports.
The quintessential gym sport, made popular by movies and beloved by 8 year olds with bloodlust everywhere. This sport was probably the only thing people feared more in my school than the yearly spelling bee. Both involved being singled out for humiliation, brought tears to the lesser competitors, and involved more skill than you probably currently possess.
Being able to hurl a rubber ball full-speed at a classmate’s face was the closest thing most people have ever felt to dispensing Old West justice. Unfortunately, schools are banning it left and right, or at least exchanging the classic dodge ball for bastardized foam versions. Just know that out of all my grade school experiences, getting hit in the face with a dodge ball was the first time I remember feeling alive.
Apparently swinging around a bat at a leather-covered, rubber core wound ball was a little too dangerous for grade school, so why not play a sport like baseball, but take the “pegging people in the face” part of dodge ball too? Nothing was more satisfying than catching a giant fly ball, then turning around and slamming that ball right between a friend’s shoulder blades as they scrambled back to cover first. I maintain that this rule should be immediately incorporated into baseball, if only to see Yasiel Puig drill an unsuspecting runner trying to tag up right in the back of the head.
As for kickball, it was the first game I remember playing where people could stand out. The coordination of kicking the ball, and the general field awareness necessary to play the game required a certain amount of athleticism that was heretofore unneeded in real life. Once again, gym class was ahead of the curve in evaluating life skills.
Little did we know that this was even a real sport. Even as a kid I thought this game was a ridiculous blend of basketball and soccer, but it wasn’t until later I discovered that my penchant for the game could have led me to fulfill my Olympic dreams. Why wasn’t this outlined better by my gym teacher? And for that matter, how is this sport not dominated by Americans? Really, we’re getting beat out by Sweden? Come on, America, get your act together!
This game blends everything a good gym class game should: convoluted rules, forced team concepts, and sacrificial lambs, in the form of two poor, unsuspecting goalies. My friends and I dominated this game to the point where we were not allowed on the same team. Now if they only allowed us to compete against Brazil.
My triceps and quads start burning just thinking about this game. This game was less about athletic prowess and more about endurance and figuring out subtle ways to accidentally kick the kid who made fun of you constantly in the face. The game was always destined to end 0-0 and be a complete, disjointed mess, but how is that any different from any other youth soccer game? Hell, that describes half of the English Premier League games that people are constantly trying to make me watch.
Nobody knew what they were doing, some even going so far as to purposefully try to aim themselves away from the action. I feel like this game was by far the best microcosm of middle school. A few people trying in vain to show off, with everyone else trying like hell to remain unnoticed and just make it to the whistle. Just to be clear, I’m talking about crab soccer again, and not the English Premier League.
While overall less physical than the other sports, in the late spring and fall came around in gym, my teacher loved to roll out the weird plastic mats and do some outdoor bowling. With the weighted pins and a four pound projectile, what could possibly go wrong? Just like real bowling, I am hopelessly terrible, but any student looking to be a saboteur learned the rough bounces, subtle dips and grassy divots that could launch the ball in all sorts of fun, destructive ways. Who needs to try to roll a 300 game when you could launch the rubber bowling ball with enough force to bounce across two lanes and send an unsuspecting group of girls scattering in all directions?
Gym class really did teach you the most valuable lesson in all athletic pursuits: it’s not how you win or lose, but how you play the game. And we played it ruthlessly.
Matt Brockway is an Olympic handballer in his own mind. Find him on Twitter @subtlehyperbole.