Girls were just beginning to be encouraged to play sports in the late 1960s. I had half athletic genes from my Dad, but my mother broke her collar bone trying to execute a forward roll during high school gym class. It was gym class, not P.E., and the teacher was the gym teacher, of course. Today, most athletic teachers hate the term “gym.” I just hate the whole subject. Everything we did was prescribed for us, and thank goodness the sexes were separated in high school.
In the fall, we played softball. I couldn’t figure out if I was a leftie or a rightie, because no one had taught me how to hold the bat until the gym teacher yelled at me to use my dominant hand. (“No, Sonya, the other side of the base!”) The first time my bat connected with the ball, I threw the bat and got tossed out of the game. I didn’t do it on purpose. I was just so surprised I hit something! Being in the outfield was worse. We didn’t have gloves to catch the balls flying everywhere, and I backed away from the falling balls instead of trying to catch them. It must have been hilarious to watch me as I cowered down when a softball started to descend near me.
It’s funny now, but I still stay away from flying softballs and other objects. Even in a room, if someone yells, “Here! Catch!” I hold my hands out uselessly. Sometimes I get lucky enough to catch it with my body. It’s not that I think catching things is a required skill in life. I just remember the hoots of laughter (even the gym teacher) when I couldn’t manage the ball.
Guess who was picked last for gym teams.
I think if I had made up my mind to catch the ball, I could have done it, but my head said, “You idiot! What are you trying to do? Be a baseball player?” It was impossible.
There was something I was good at in gym class: square dancing. I swung my partner and do-si-do’d all over the gym floor. I loved it; as far as I was concerned, we could have done that all year. My secret desire to take dancing lessons had come true! Unfortunately, square dancing lasted only a few short weeks, and then the boys went back to their side of the gym, and the girls to theirs. It would be mid-winter by then, and I knew what was coming next: gymnastics.
In the next gym class, the floor would be outfitted with a balance beam, trampoline, uneven bars, and something the teachers called a “horse.” I had watched the Olympics, so I knew how athletes were supposed to use this equipment. We were beginners, but there were always a few girls in my class every year who were good at everything. Everything. And they knew it.
“Please, Miss Loren, please! Can I show how to do a cartwheel and split?”
“Well, Jenny, you may, but remember girls, not everyone can do this!”
And with that caveat, Jenny would do cartwheels and handsprings and double forward rolls and end in a split that earned her the applause and attention she sought. I cowered in the corner and prayed for my period to start and last for several weeks so I could get out of gymnastics. It never worked.