Something a little more light-hearted today. It has to do with my feeling out-of-touch and left behind when I watch my boys do some of the things that boys do these days. You know, the stuff they do that’s related to technological advances and the intersection of those advances with youth culture. Specifically, video games. I watch them play. I feel old. I try to play with them. I feel lost and then always lose. Then they remind me of how deprived my childhood must have been without the stuff that they’ve got.
Then while watching the olympics over the course of the last couple of weeks, I realized that there were some “advances” we had that are not only long lost, but unknown to my kids. I’m thinking specifically about the formalized physical education experience I had 30 to 40 years ago, compared to what my kids are required to do in gym class today. My kids have co-ed classes. They don’t wear uniforms. And, they are not required to shower after class. This is most likely due to the fact that physical education has by and large become sweatless. We were separated boys from girls. Every once in a while that little door in the middle of the folding wall that divided the gym in two would open and we’d be able to satisfy our hormonal curiosity with a peek into the curious world of the girls’ gym class.
We also wore matching uniforms. No uniform, no participation. No participation, no passing grade. I noticed they’re still wearing uniforms in the olympics. My kids are only required to wear shoes with a rubber bottom. We also broke a sweat. . . sometimes from the exertion extended during physical activity, sometimes from fear of our gym teacher (remember Mr. Cutlip??), and sometimes from the sheer terror of anticipating doing the things we had to do (more on that in a minute!). This means community showers were required. . . which was perhaps the most terrifying part of junior high gym class.
And then there are the sports and how they are graded. In today’s world, you just need to show up and hit a wiffle-golf-ball around the football practice field with a 9-iron for 36 minutes and you get an “A.” I’ve heard stories of some sports that are now options for kids in gym class. . . . like darts and billiards. Are you kidding me? And it’s not just kids who go to school. One youth pastor told me that he had a kid in his youth group who stayed home for school who got gym credit for regularly taking out the garbage, cutting the grass, and cleaning up the dog’s mess in the backyard! I guess you could break a sweat depending on the size and consumption habits of the dog.
All that to say. . . this year’s Olympics have left me gloating a bit. Regardless of the fact that nobody in my house is listening or even cares, I still feel good about the fact that many of the sports celebrated in the Olympics were required for us. My kids have no clue. Yes, we had to wrestle. For a grade. My greatest junior high gym class wrestling moment, I thought at the time, came in the middle of a match in our school’s wrestling room when I put a move on a kid named Danny that snapped his thigh bone in half. Trust me, it was not intentional, the move was accidental, and nobody was more surprised than me. Somehow in all the chaos of having to call an ambulance, my teacher forgot to give me any extra credit points for conquering my opponent so decisively. I may have even been docked points for interrupting class.
We also had to particpate in just about every Olympic track and field event. Remember the hurdles? I do. And it’s not a pleasant memory. The shot put and the javelin were another story. Those were the days when teachers actually taught you how to use weapons. During my high school and middle school years I spent time on the track team doing both events. Of course, I never finished first in either. If my son took a javelin to school with him today, he’d be expelled. . . . and most likely doomed to getting gym credits for cleaning up after the dog. We also were required to learn skills for grades on all the gymnastics apparatus. We had to do the high bar, vaulting horse, still rings, parallel bars, pommel horse, floor exercises, and even the trampoline. . . . which was lots of fun as long as you were just jumping around. My one glorious gymnastic moment came when I mustered up enough courage to actually try to do a dislocate on the still rings. Amazingly, it worked and it didn’t hurt – even though it looked like it should. Other Olympic sports where particpation of all was required included team handball (fun), volleyball (fun), distance running (not fun), swimming (fun – except for the backstroke and the water you’d get up your nose), and diving (not fun if you were scared of heights).
So, the Olympics are ancient in more ways than one. Their history extends back to ancient Greece. . . . and to a couple of gymnasiums and athletic fields in suburban Philly schools. My kids don’t know what they’re missing!