We can be (gym class) heroes, just for one day

We can be (gym class) heroes, just for one day
August 24, 2010, 4:54 pm
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Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010
11:39 AM

By Joe Collins
CSNChicago.com

It's too bad we live in a world where Bears tackle Chris Williams can't play "Red Rover Red Rover." I'm guessing that the brass at Halas Hall wouldn't allow such a thing, despite the fact that he wears a lot of protective equipment and goes up against 300-pound guys all the time. They probably have a prohibitive clause in his contract, you know? It's also too bad that Juan Pierre can't be turned loose in a pickup game of "Steal the Bacon." Or that you won't see Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith as enforcers in an impromptu game of floor hockey. Or even dodgeball. But given what happened to former NFL running back Robert Edwards, I could understand why owners and general managers would frown on such acts of silliness outside of their day jobs.

The school bells will ring once again for every Chicagoland high school, middle school and grade school in the next week or so, if they haven't started already. And thanks to Illinois being one of only five states that require physical education in grades K-12, you can bet a few of those games will be played a little more often in the Land of Lincoln. And by kids who aspire to be the next Williams, Pierre, Seabrook or Keith, no less.

Gym class is always the most looked forward to or the most dreaded class of the day. There's hardly any middle ground. Kids either get excited about the chance to climb a rope or hate the fact that they have to change into John Stockton-esque 80's shorts for 45 minutes. What do you remember about being a gym class hero? Or what was it about gym class that gave you the creeps? Here a few bits and pieces you might remember:

The Presidential Challenge: Like the Pro Bowl, the NBA Slam Dunk Contest or MySpace, the Presidential Challenge fitness test was a good idea for a year or two. Nowadays we all look back and laugh and say, "How could I ever take something like this seriously?" As you may remember, The Presidential Challenge focused on five staples of PE class dorkery: sit-ups, the shuttle run, pull-ups, the mile run and sit and reach. All five events reeked of potential disaster-- and I mean that both literally and figuratively. Remember how you always had to partner up with someone for sit-ups? If you picked a kid that didn't have the pork & beans with Cool Ranch Doritos for lunch, you were OK.

The shuttle run was always a torn ACL waiting to happen. Heck, depending on your gym teacher, the pull-up competition was a separated shoulder waiting to happen. The mile run always had that "if I drop before any one of you..." feel about it a'la Goldie Hawn in "Wildcats." But the sit and reach portion, where flexibility and unintentional comedy went hand in hand, was always my favorite. You had to sit and place your feet against a wooden box that looked like it was made by a D shop class student. Then, you had to stretch out your muscles (and dignity) toward a tape measure on the box. Woo hoo! What next? Can we square dance now? Fortunately, the tests were run by teachers who had to control 30 students all at the same time, so it was easy to bend the rules. "Wow Joe...87 sit-ups in a minute? I think that's a record!" Granted, these tests might set good health precedents at an early age, but where are all the Presidential Challenge winners these days? Point me in the direction of the Presidential Challenge Hall of Fame. Go on.

The Obstacle Course: This was an elementary school staple. Anybody else take part in this nonsense? Nothing says fun like turning a gymnasium into a ramshackle version of Double Dare for an hour. Usually, the PE class obstacle course featured some of the following:

1. Wobbly balance beams, three inches off the floor, getting you across an alligator lake (blue construction paper taped to the floor)

2. Having to tip-toe through the poison snake patchactually jump ropes, in the shape of snakes, strewn all over the place

3. A spooky cave contraption that was made out of soiled gym mats (which smelled like taco mix) all held together with duct tape

4. Rope swing across the canyon; in other words, a homemade staircaseplatform, a slippery rope, another platform...and a shattered femur

5. The Scooters : reckless kid doing 15 mph an unsuspecting pinky finger on another kid = a lot of screaming and an ice pack

(Random tangent: not sure if it was just my elementary school that did this, but why was every solution to a childs health problem an ice pack? Talk about a cheap fix. Headache? Ice pack. Blunt force trauma? Ice pack. Stressing out over the state achievement tests? Ice pack.)

Protect The Pin: If you see any news segments about social unrest on TV, say, on a college campus or in a city plaza, I am willing to bet that the highly motivated ones in those stories earned their stripes in games like Protect The Pin. Not sure if you had a game like this in the K-12 days, but this is what put my Tinley Park grade school on the map. Protect the Pin is like dodgeball meets handball meets a government revolt. I can't imagine that this game exists now with the push for "friendly" games in schools. Anyway, two teams are placed on opposing sides of a gymnasium. The midcourt stripe is the Mason-Dixon line. Six or seven foam rubber balls (about the size of small basketballs) were in play. Your goal was to knock down a bowling pin on the other side of the gymand doing so by staying behind the midcourt stripe. If you didnt think you could throw a ball and knock down the pin immediately, you could always peg (read: knock the living daylights out of) opponents via the thrown ball. If a member of the opposition caught the ball on a fly, you were out of the game. However, if your thrown ball was good enough to knock someone's glasses off --and the ensuing ricochet took out two more Z Cavaricci-wearing snobs-- all three were out. Fun stuff! Every Friday afternoon, the decibel level in our gym was tantamount to the old Chicago Stadium during a great Bulls or Blackhawks playoff run. See, throwing a punch in class to get even with the kid who stole your crayon was frowned on in the classroom. But you could always get even if that same kid was on the other team in Protect the Pin. All you need is a foam rubber ballor five. (Note: CSNChicago.com does not advocate violence or throwing foam rubber balls at your coworkers).

What we really need is to have some of our old gym class games on TV. Wouldnt that be fun? You knowget a bunch of free agent athletes in their prime, or even legendary athletes with a few screws loose (Tyson, Rodmanetc) and start up a 12-city dodgeball league. The Chicago Pinheads for starters. The public would never take a thing like that seriously, so you put the games on Saturday nights at 2am when people are just getting home with their steak burritos.

Hey, at least it would be a step up from a food dehydrator infomercial.

Or something like that.