Remedial Gym and the Fourth Grade Kickball Miracle

Remedial gym class.

Yep, if there was ever a way to truly ostracize a kid in our school system-- a way to hang a big ol' school-board-sanctioned "Kick Me" sign on a first grader's fledgling social standing-- remedial gym class would rank pretty highly in the list.

The Presidential Physical Fitness tests would occur my first year of school, and the school decided I was apparently not measuring up.

My arm hang was weak.

My sit-up quantities per minute were sub-par.

And my stylistic form during relay-racing was just all over the place.

I wasn't even six, and I was athletically washed-up.

My low status in gym class set a tone that carried all the way through to fourth grade.

That was the year I got braces and glasses and that fashionable thick black elastic band required by school law to hold my glasses tight to my head during exercise; I guess so if I got hit in the face and my glasses shattered, the maximum amount of lens would penetrate my eye.

It was also the year kickball became the unofficial-official sport of my classroom.

Now I've mentioned in the past how after lunch, when they sent us out onto the playground, we weren't allowed any sort of sports equipment, running, jumping, skipping, hopscotch, jump-rope or other potential lawsuit-inducing activities.

However, if fully-supervised by our classroom teacher, we would get some time for recess.

This meant an organized sport. This meant, it basically was one more gym class to add to my regular humiliation.

This meant, I was faced with kickball.

Ah, kickball... Each year, kickball came up, and each year kickball was explained to us as, "It's just like baseball but you kick a red rubber ball."

My grasp on the concept of baseball, however, was tenuous at best. I knew baseball as that sport that my grandfather put on television and then fell asleep in his lounge chair.

I knew it as the program which, the moment I would try to change the channel, Grampa would wake up abruptly and grumble how he "was watching that, put it back"-- then wipe a little of the snore-drool from his chin.

I knew baseball as the thing that prevented me from watching Godzilla marathons on WWOR-TV.

So, when it was my turn to kick, I knew I should kick the ball as it came at me. But after that, I was fairly fuzzy on the finer points of the remaining procedure. Mostly, I'd weigh my options about what to do next, intentionally hesitating long enough that someone would tag me out before any key decisions had to be made.

I found it to be a lame but effective strategy.

So year after year, I was chosen in the near-last range for kickball. I say "near last" because there were maybe two other kids leftover from First Grade Remedial Gym Class who hadn't gotten the hang of the whole group sports thing, either.

Most of us were only children, and I see how it happens. Breathtakingly exciting pick-up games of baseball aren't exactly common when it's one kid in the backyard throwing the ball up and batting it into a tree hoping for a rebound.

Anyway, so as fourth grade led into summer, each clear day we would go out for kickball, and I'd bunt it, and get an out, and go back to wait for my next round of embarrassment

Until José Rodriquez went all Gene Hackman on me.

I don't know how he figured out the root of my kickball problem--because I thought at the time my stall-tactics had been fairly credible.

But somewhere along the way, José had come to realize the reason I was such a lousy kickball player was simply because I just didn't understand kickball. And that's when this kid-- a who had always called me names up until now-- decided to help me.

Maybe he thought it was better to take me under his wing than lose the game. Maybe he'd known someone who was confused before, too. Maybe he took an epiphany kickball to the head. I really don't know.

What I do know is, the first time he coached me, it was startling. The pitcher rolled the ball to me, I stepped forward, gave it a decent-enough kick, put on my "Hm, maybe I don't really feel like running anywhere" face, and then saw José standing by first base. "Here. Here. Run here!"

So I ran. I made it to first base! It was monumental. I stood there in a state of absolute disbelief.

So the next kid was up to kick. He kicked the ball. And, again-- there was José. At second base this time, waving me in. "This one now. This one. Okay, he's got the ball. So stay! Stay!"

And I stayed. Elated. Delighted. There on second base.

When I made my first run ever, it was such a weight off my fourth-grade shoulders. I was a kid who could score a run! Not a moment worth Olympic notoriety, or my own trading card or anything. But it was one moment where I wasn't a liability to my team.

The macadam on the playground was filled with sparkling metallic flecks I'd never noticed before.

That day, and the two kickball games thereafter, I learned so much. Suddenly I knew when to run. I knew when to steal. And I knew when to sprint all the way home.

The sun shone a bit brighter those days. Even more amazingly, I moved up a good three kids in the team selection rankings.

I think back on those kickball days with a bit of warmth in my heart. Sure, I still got tagged out sometimes. And yeah, I got headaches from that lovely black rubber band riveting my glasses to my skull. But it was the first time I learned I could actually be a part of something that didn't involve glue and safety scissors.

Yes, indeed, it was a long way from Remedial Gym Class.

And I have José Rodriguez to thank for it.

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26 comments:

Kathy said...

God bless Jose!!! I have a tear in my eye. I never "got" organized sports either. And I remember the pain of being on the outside looking in. Never wanting to be part of a sports group and knowing no one really wanted me there anyway. A scoring machine I was not. Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.

Jenn Thorson said...

Kathy- I hear ya! It got better for us in high school, when we could choose our own activities. But until, it was hell.

80sMom said...

Oh my, this reminds me of how much i hated gym class and ANYTHING that got the heart racing.

Funny blog, I enjoyed it!

Da Old Man said...

Congrats on your mastery of kick ball, my friend.
Again, because I notice the weird details that no one else cares about, channel 9 (WOR) Godzilla marathons? That means Grandfather was watching channel 11. Which would make him a Yankee fan. Unless, you meant baseball pre-empted the marathons, which meant he was a Mets fan. These are the bizarre, yet somehow important details I need to know.

Jenn Thorson said...

80s Mom- Hey, thank you. Yes, gym class was one of those things you either loved or hated, I think. Thanks for stopping by.

DaOldMan- Oh, I hate to tell you, but Grandpa was a Mets fan. It's nice to hear those details about the TV stations because I'm a little fuzzy on them, having been a kid where the WORLD is fuzzy. :)

B said...

There were remedial gym classes in america?!

YogaforCynics said...

oooooh, gawd...remedial gym class...I was the only boy along with a couple of girls. I never had the inspiring kind of experience you had here, either.

The irony, however, is that now I'm 42, do yoga every day, bike 100 miles a week, and am no doubt in far better shape than 90% of the kids-now-grown-up who were in non-remedial gym class.

Jenn Thorson said...

B- There were in my school, anyway. I don't know how prevalent it was, though.

YogaforCynics- Ah, nothing like a little poetic justice!

Bee said...

Awwww!
And "remedial gym class" BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!

B said...

I would've loved an option like that... unless you had to be disabled or something?

Jenn Thorson said...

Bee- Yeah, I know. I was in it officially, maybe three or four weeks. But the humiliation lingered on. :)

B- No, you didn't have to be disabled, only clumsy.

Jay said...

Remedial gym classes at SIX?? Wow, how cruel...

Good for Jose!! I wonder if he remembers and if he found a sense of pride in seeing your achievements?

Shamelessly Sassy said...

I remember the Presidents Fitness Challenge. They still have that! You get a little red patch if you do well in it. How cruel to stick a child in remedial gym class.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jay- I somehow don't think he knew what a difference it ended up making to me. And, of course, being a kid, I don't think I ever did get a chance to tell him. Heart-to-heart moments of thanks kinda weren't par for the course on the playgrounds. :)

Shamelessly Sassy- Oh gee, I don't remember the patch-- but heh, I imagine I didn't have much hope of winning one either. :)

Chat Blanc said...

You're my new kickball idol!! I was such a midget that the kickball was practically bigger than I was, therefore I never managed to kick it very far. I think I could have used the help of a Jose!

Jenn Thorson said...

Sandy- It's funny how something so, theoretically, simple as kickball could cause so much difficulty for so many! :)

Jonny's Mommy said...

Awesome Jose!

Can I just tell you that reading about kick ball gave me amazing flashbacks and they weren't good.

Yeah...I really sucked at phys ed. Big time.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jonny's Mommy- I'm noticing more folks seem to be having a similar reaction to kickball and gym class in general. If we'd all known each of us hated gym so much, I think we could have found solidarity in our pain. :)

Melanie said...

Soidarity in our pain-- yeah that would have been nice!! I was that kid ALWAYS got picked last. If the other kids could have figured out a way to send me back to the classroom for recess, they would have.

I'll never forget the horrors of Bible school in the third and fourth grade. Mom would pack us off to church for the day with a sack lunch and at noon hour we were supposed to play baseball. It gave me nightmares. I not only didn't want to play, I had no clue whatsoever how to play and no Jose to rescue me. I became the slowest sandwich eater in the history of the world so I could get out of playing.

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- Ah, yes-- the stall tactic... it was one of our only defenses. :) Baseball, I think, is even worse than kickball when you're an uncoordinated kid. The kickball doesn't require precision-- the baseball, oh boy.

You poor thing. Well, just know I do understand your pain!

Anonymous said...

Remember the then dreaded group showers? Looking back I can now agree with and understand why they made us shower after gym class. But back then, showering buck naked with all of the other girls in my gym class felt a little awkward.

Beth

Jenn Thorson said...

Beth- In our school, the showers were still there but they didn't require us to take them anymore-- I think it stopped a year or two before my class. So they existed for us as some scary archaeological threat. Like uncovering some curse in a tomb-- we knew the shower policy could be brought back at any time.

Frankly, changing in the gym room was bad enough.

Anonymous said...

Jenn,

Back then I would have felt that you were lucky to not have to shower.

Funny thing is that when I was in grades 7 through 12 we had to shower after gym class, and I hated it. My two daughters go to the same exact high school that I attended years ago, and they are NOT made to shower after gym class, and they complain when the gym teacher doesn't excuse the girls to the locker room early enough to enable them to shower. My daughters are modest around males, but locker room nudity doesn't bother them like it did me when I was their age.

Here's what you missed out on by not showering in gym class, LOL....

The locker room of my high school was huge and the shower section was smack-dab in the middle of the locker room where you were in clear site of anyone else that was in there at the time. There wasn't anywhere near the showers to be able to hang a towel, which meant that you had to just walk nude to and from the showers.

The showers themselves were on polls with 4 different shower heads on each poll, when you showered you had to stand in this circle facing the shower heads, and that meant you always had 3 other girls facing you as you showered.

Our gym teacher was also our Health class teacher, so often when I was in Health class I'd be sitting there thinking about how she had seen me naked a hundred times before. She probably wasn't thinking about it herself, but in my mind at that time I was sure that she was still picturing us nude, LOL.

My #1 most embarrassing moment that stands out to me was one time when the near-by elementary school had about 30 girls from their school and several of the female teachers and mothers of those girls sharing the locker room with us. My high school had a large swimming pool, and the girls from one of the classes at the elementary school were brought over to our school to swim, and a couple of teachers and several of the mothers were there too. Just as we were starting to shower after gym class, here walked in all of these elementary school girls with their mothers and teachers. So us high school girls were forced to stand there naked showering with all of these other people in the locker room. And the young girls seemed to be very interested in eying the nude teens that were across the room from them. One of which was the young girl I was a regular babysitter for. Yikes!

Beth

Jenn Thorson said...

Beth- My heart goes out to you-- I feel my face redden with the embarrassment vicariously!

This is worse than our gym teacher checking us for scoliosis. Far, far worse.

Anonymous said...

Jenn,

Thank you for the sympathy. I probably didn't need to feel as embarrassed about it as I did at that time. I'm sometimes amazed at how far I've come since then with my comfort level about being nude in the ladies locker room at the Y that my daughters and I swim at. But it was different for me back then. I was also amazed back in my school days at how many of the other girls didn't seem to be uncomfortable in the least while walking around the locker room in the nude and showering in front of everyone else.

That's kind of odd that they had your gym teacher check you for scoliosis. With us it was always a doctor that was hired to come check us for it and other medical issues. At my school we were checked in private by a doctor and his or her assisting nurse. But a girlfriend of mine who attended a different school than me said that at her school the girls all had to go into the locker room and get completely undressed and stand in line getting checked one by one in front of all of the other girls who were there to be checked. Sometimes I really don't know what some schools were thinking?

Beth

Jenn Thorson said...

Beth- I think it's almost a rite of passage to endure being humiliated over stuff as a kid. We get over it. But we do remember-- ah, how we remember! :)