The School Gym and the Games We Loved to Hate
School Sports: Nothing Short of Sadistic
Do you ever sit at work, wishing you could just be a kid again?
Well, I don’t.
Sure, some of it was great, like watching cartoons on Saturday mornings or making forts out of the dining room table and a sheet, but what about having to go to school five days a week?
Well, some might say, school was better than work; aside from being able to learn lots of great lessons, we also had P.E. every day.
No, thank you.
P.E. for me was torture. Honestly, some of the games we had to play were nothing short of sadistic. While there were many that I could mention, here are five games that a lot of us loved to hate.
1. Dodge Ball
Dodge Ball: "The Most Brutal Sport Ever Invented"
Dodge Ball has to be the most brutal sport ever invented – right up there with the Hunger Games.
I was a shy, simpering, messy-haired girl who was always picked last for the team. The team captains knew that if the ball came my way, whether fast or slow, I would simply cower against the wall.
The coach with his hairy beer belly didn’t care; he was too busy yelling at all the boys, “Burn that ball! Atta boy, George! Look at that power. Come on, Jimmy. Don’t throw like a girl. Make it hurt!”
And that ball did hurt. So I stayed out of its way by hiding behind every other player until I was the only one left against the biggest ball burner of all, Craig Lambert.
Craig Lambert wasn’t just a ball burner on the court; he also enjoyed kicking people in the crotch unexpectedly.
Whenever we played dodge ball, Ball Buster Craig would burn that red rubber sphere at me. In response, I would fall to the ground in a fetal position, arms cradling my head. Invariably, he’d miss, which he often did when kicking at someone’s crotch, too.
The ball would slam into the back wall, sounding like a grenade going off and leaving a black streak that might just as well have been a scorch mark.
Sometimes, he would hit the back drop so hard that it would just rebound and he’d try again. Other times, the ball would fly out of bounds.
This was worse than being mauled by the ball because then I would have to throw it at Craig Lambert in an attempt to tag him out.
“Throw like a girl” was certainly what I would do. If I had been older, I would have realized that I was reenacting giving birth whenever I got ahold of that ball. I’d hold it in both hands, bend my knees, bring the ball between my legs and with a mighty push, toss it over the scrimmage line.
Thankfully, Craig caught it every time. I was “out.” Thank goodness it was over.
2. Red Rover
Red Rover: "It's Just a Game, Sweetheart"
I have always loved dogs, so when the P.E. teacher said we would play Red Rover, I was ecstatic. Until, of course, I learned how to actually play the game.
As usual we picked teams, so I was chosen last. My best friend, Laura, was usually the penultimate pick, so she and I were never on the same team. She was last on Craig’s team; I was last on Jimmy’s.
We were lined up on either side of the court and told to hold hands with the people next to us. This meant holding hands with someone like Paul Grimm or Kendall Smith who most certainly had cooties.
Even if I were next to a friend, it felt funny holding hands with her. Hand holding was reserved for those kids who were “going out” or for our parents when we crossed a busy street. It wasn’t for friends, and it certainly wasn’t for boys with cooties.
The next rule our red faced P.E. teacher barked was for our captain to call out: “Red Rover, Red Rover, send someone on over,” only we were to substitute a name for the word someone. Preferably, the name of someone who could ram so hard into our clasped arms that he (never she, not in those days) could break through to the other side.
Our leader, Jimmy went first, shouting, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Craig on over.”
Well, you can guess what would happen next. Ball Buster Craig eyed the line of students, looking for a weak link. His eyes would linger on me and the poor sucker who got stuck holding my sweaty palm. Craig’s pock-marked face would break into an evil grin and he’d take off across the court like a hound dog chasing a squirrel.
I swear, I could even hear him baying.
My eyes would shut and I’d clench that hand, cooties or not, as hard as I could. Then, WHAM! Craig would slam into our arms like an eighteen wheel truck running through a garden fence.
Tears stung my eyes from the pain as I stoically rubbed my bruised forearm and shook my hand to return feeling to the fingers.
From far away, I could hear the coach laughing, "Atta Boy, Craig!" Noticing my glistening eyes, he'd add, "Lighten up; it's just a game, Sweetheart."
As a consolation prize for having been so severely beaten, Craig was now welcomed onto our team, with me stuck holding his cootie covered hand.
3. Capture the Flag
Capture the Flag: "A Grade School Reenactment of War"
Capture the Flag was another game I loved to hate, but fortunately, only for the first ten minutes of play.
Once the weather turned nice, the coach took us out onto the field behind the school. This field was quite idyllic with rolling hills and lots of trees running around the perimeter, so it was perfect for a grade school reenactment of war.
As usual, my best friend and I were chosen last, which unfortunately meant we were on opposing teams. However, I was also friends with Maria, who generally ended up on my team by being the third to last person to be picked. The two of us were the slowest runners, so we never lasted more than a few minutes on the field.
Like the perfect predator, Ball Buster Craig would pick off the weakest of the herd before tackling the big bulls like Jimmy or Greg.
I usually just stood still when I saw him coming, holding up my hands and saying, “Okay, you got me.” If I tried to run away, he’d plow into me, knocking me down as though I were some meaty football player. Even when I stopped, he’d sometimes smack me on the back, shouting, “HA – got you out!” which automatically sent me to “prison camp.”
The “prison camp,” I have to admit, was my happy place. It was usually a small shaded knoll, and if I was lucky, the mulberries would be in season. Maria and I would spend the rest of the period picking and eating mulberries.
The only glitch was when someone “released the prisoners,” but we just strolled out so that the “prison guard” could easily round us up again. Sometimes, my best friend was even the prison guard, so she would join us in our mulberry fest.
Okay, so maybe Capture the Flag wasn’t too bad, but only because I didn’t actually join the battle.
4. Sharks and Minnows
Sharks and Minnows: "An Ominous Feel Right from the Start"
Sharks and minnows was a game with an ominous feel right from the start, what with Jaws being a popular movie at the time. I’d already seen the film at the theater, and it had scared me out of the water for life.
The good news about the game of sharks and minnows was that it wasn’t actually played in the water, just in the gym or on the outside court.
The bad news was that I always began as a minnow – in other words, the prey.
Minnows needed to stay away from the sharks lest they be eaten. However, since the sharks were simply all the overly athletic boys, they would just knock us down or smack us rather than ripping our limbs off.
Oddly, minnows who had been “eaten” turned into sharks. I disliked being a predator as much as being the prey. Once Ball Buster Craig or Jimmy or some other oaf of a boy had tagged me, I had to run around after all the leftover minnows.
I would have failed as a carnivore in the wild; I could never catch a soul. Even my best friend could outrun me.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if I could have hidden from the coach like in Capture the Flag, but there were no trees to hide behind. Instead, the coach bellowed like a bull horn – I think he even had a bull horn, come to think about it – insisting that we keep running no matter how futile the endeavor.
Of course, now I realize the goal was to make us run, but jogging the track would have been more enjoyable than failing miserably in an attempt to catch imaginary fish.
5. Heads Up, Seven Up
Heads Up, Seven Up: "Nothing Scary About This Game, Right?"
Sometimes, the weather didn’t permit us to go outside and the gym was already occupied, so we’d have to play something in the classroom. “Heads Up, Seven Up” was one of the games the teachers liked.
As a teacher myself now, I realize it was a good time for them to ignore us and get some grading done, but at the time, it was terrifying.
Really, Seven-Up is just a silly game where most of the class place a closed fist on their desks, put their heads down, and close their eyes while seven “chosen” students (also known as teacher’s pets) tag seven people who then raise their thumbs out of the fist into the “good job” position. Once those seven thumbs have been elevated, the “it” group says, “Thumbs up, seven-up,” and the kids with the turned-up thumbs try to guess which student tagged them.
Nothing scary about this game, right? Wrong.
If you were a kid like me, you were sure that you’d end up being the only one left in the room with her eyes closed and her fist set on her desk like a flowerless vase while everyone else quietly snickered, or even worse, tip-toed out of the room.
Okay, so I had abandonment issues, but certainly others felt this way too.
To counter my fears, I would always peek, which would bring screeches of “cheater” from the “it” group. Rarely, if ever, was I tapped on the shoulder so that I could triumphantly raise my thumb, so my head always had to remain down until the students called out “Heads up, Seven-up.”
My head would shoot up. Everyone was always still there.
I hadn’t been abandoned.
Final Inning: "The First to Say No"
As a high school teacher, I asked my students which games they disliked as children. Except for Sharks and Minnows, they mentioned all of the above games, even 7-Up.
"I never could figure out who chose me," my student wrote, "and when I did, I was accused of peeking." I can definitely relate.
No, I don’t miss the “good old days” of school. Now, I can choose to join in a game or not.
And believe me, if the teachers that I work with ever decide to get a friendly game of dodge ball going, I will be the first to say no.