Here’s to P.E., smelly gyms

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Oh the smell of a gymnasium in the morning – that’s what I remembered as I heard about the Alabama legislature passing a law making it harder for students to ditch physical education classes.

Seems lawmakers figured out that given a chance some kids opt out of P.E. and they plan to make it more difficult in grades K-8. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am one of those students who did whatever she could to get around classes involving exercise, games and dressing out in a locker room.

Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, when I was in school you had to take P.E., which is apparently not the case anymore or we wouldn’t need a law.

I’m not sure why I had an aversion to this class. I never enjoyed playground activities and memories of dodge ball games in elementary school bring on a cold sweat even now.

Of course, we played in dresses so maybe it was a modesty issue since I had no problem engaging in a game of kick ball in the back yard when I had on my peddle-pushers.

When I hit middle school age, the thought of physical education class brought more anxiety because I was a shy kid insecure about her appearance. I’d compare myself to the other, often older, girls and my skinny, flat-chested frame seemed far inferior. So, I did my best to hide behind a locker when it was time to change into gym suits.

Ah, gym suits – kind of short-legged jumpsuits that snapped up the front in what I can only describe as a lovely shade of institutional blue. Because in those days parents had to buy stuff like textbooks and gym outfits, we got used textbooks and oversized gym suits.

That way you could wear the darn thing for more than one year before passing it on to a younger sister or a neighbor. The first year, you were Miss Baggy Britches, and by the next fall, if you grew over the summer, you became Miss Tight Pants.

And who can forget the Friday smell of these outfits after wearing them for exercise and volleyball. We stuffed them into lockers while they were damp with sweat and by the end of the week, they were a wrinkled stinky mess.

Even worse was the Monday aroma if you left it at school on Friday, meaning it missed a good weekend washing. No one dared stand near you for fear of passing out from the fumes coming off that blue-colored nightmare.

Add to the trauma of wearing gym suits the fact that our physical education was the teacher’s personal Mt. Everest and she meant to reach the summit no matter how uninterested some of us might be. Not only were we going to play basketball, we were going to know the rules and be able to pass tests to prove it.

There I was a skinny kid in a stinky gym suit trying to recall the position of players on a basketball court. If asked to give the names of all the Beatles or answer questions about my favorite book, I’d pass with flying colors, but basketball – please.

As soon as I could, I came up with a way to get out of P.E. class (four years of home economics worked). In fact, after eighth grade, I don’t think I was in the gym for anything other than a pep rally.

So I understand students who try to escape this class, but now that I’m older and wiser, I realize physical activity is important and good at every age. Therefore, I think our kids should be required to take P.E.

I mean, how else will they experience the intoxicating smell of a gymnasium in the morning …