Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gym Class Horrors: Dodgeball

Gym Class

If you were to walk up to me randomly on the street and ask me if I was athletic, I would have a few reactions.  The first would be to shout, “Who are you?  Why are you talking to me??  How did you find me???” and then shriek and run away like a frightened rabbit.  If you didn’t strike me as particularly terrifying (unlikely, but for the sake of argumentation), my second reaction would be to laugh at you uncontrollably for probably fifteen minutes.  If I could catch my breath and not burst into another laughing fit, I would respond that no, I am not athletic.

It’s not like I started my life hating sports.  I, like virtually every other adolescent boy in the United States, dreamed of being a basketball player for the NBA.  Michael Jordan was one of my heroes.  I actually owned Space Jam Nobody owned Space Jam, BUT BY GOD I DID.  I even owned the soundtrack.  (Things of this nature will probably result in another blog post later.  You’ve been warned.)

 (Oh, if only you knew the truth, little me.  If only.)

Because it is the nature of the world to treat children like pesky little siblings, my adoration of basketball, and indeed all sports, was destroyed one sport at a time. 

Quiz time!  What one thing do you think can disillusion children from every athletic dream they’ve ever had? 

If you answered “gym class,” give yourself a gold star!

From what I can tell, gym class at my old school was an opportunity for every person that will hate you in your entire school career to gather in one place with an excuse to be violent toward you.

 (We will end you.)

For a perfect example of this, I can point out the game of dodgeball.  There are rumors that dodgeball is illegal now, but my Google-Fu has resulted in zero proof of that.  It has been banned in several school districts, though.  Based on my experiences, I can see why.  I don’t know which demented sadist came up with the idea of dodgeball, but he should be dragged out into the streets and beaten with towels soaked with the tears of those miserable children he condemned to indescribable fear and pain.

Games of dodgeball at my junior high usually went like this:

When the whistle blew, the jocks on both teams would make a desperate attempt to grab every ball they could find and run back to their side of the court to begin the pummeling.  The smart, nerdy kids, the fat kids (I belonged in both categories), and most of the girls stayed in the back.  We lacked the athletic ability to compete effectively in the game.

As the game progressed, the boundaries would become slimmer and slimmer.  First, the court was divided into half equally at the “half court” line.  Then, the boundaries would overlap as they were extended into the first line on each side of the court.  I thought of this zone as “No Man’s Land.”  No Man’s Land grew as the boundaries were extended to the other team’s free throw line.  Finally, no lines would be declared.

Games usually played out like this:

The preliminary eliminations were a mixed bag.  You had enough distance to be able to effectively dodge even the most powerful throws as long as you kept your guard up.  It was even better if you didn’t try.  Whether I tried or not depended on how deluded I was that week that I could be accepted into the jock group.  Occasionally a blow could string pretty good--especially with certain jocks throwing--but all in all it wouldn't be terrible.

After the narrowing of the boundaries, things became slightly harder.  Honestly, there wasn’t a lot of difference, but the sound of the dodgeballs pinging off of the walls became sharper.  A blow here would definitely sting.

The further narrowing of the lines turned the game into a sort of shooting gallery if you were (un)lucky enough to make it so far into the game.  You had to hope that there was someone good on your team for the other team to focus on.  If they viewed you as a non-threat, you were safe, and might even be able to pick off a couple before they realized your sneaky, underhanded plan.  Blows here would most definitely hurt--an initial sting and a false sense of hope as the injured area goes numb.  Sure, you might have some nerve damage, but at least it doesn't hurt, right?  Soon the numbness would wear off, and you would realize how horribly they mangled the afflicted limb.

If the coach got bored with your pansy dancing survival antics, the equivalent of hopping around while someone shoots at your feet, he would call “no lines.”  “No lines” meant no boundaries.  When you heard those terrible words barked, and as they echoed throughout the gymnasium, if you listened closely, you could hear an audible snapping sound.  That was the sound of the few straggling survivors’ hopes being crushed.

Our coach wasn’t always satisfied with simply torturing the weak and defenseless.  He liked to promote gender discrimination, and more alienation and competition among the sexes.  When he was feeling particularly nasty, he would pit guys against girls.  However, it was clear that he didn’t think that girls had a chance against guys, because he would put handicaps on the guys’ games. 

“Guys can only run to the half court line, but girls can run up to the free throw line on the guys side.”

Okay...well that one isn't so bad.

“Girls can grab all of the balls first.  Guys must count to ten before playing.”

...not horrendously terrible...

“Guys must crab walk up to the half court line before they’re allowed to touch a ball.”

“Guys can’t use balls at all.”


It’s unfair to say that all women aren’t good at sports.  Some women aren’t good at sports, just like some guys aren’t good at sports.  However, some women are incredibly strong, just like some guys are incredibly strong.  Some women are built like Andre the Giant.  Sometimes dodgeballs make whistling noises through the air like a fighter jet screaming through the gym when they’re thrown by some girls.  Sometimes dodgeballs explode upon impact with the force some girls throw them.  Just like it’s unfair to pit a thin, athletically challenged girl against a tall, strong, football player, it would seem to be equally unfair to pit a fat, unathletic boy against a tall, strong, broad-shouldered, athletic girl.

However, these were the kinds of things my coach did.  He delighted in watching the weak suffer.  I remember making it to the end of the match.  I was foolish.  I tried to dodge competitively, like a champion.  I thought if I survived until the end, the other guys would like me and accept me into the group.  I should have let one of the weak, valley-girl types get me out.  They threw softly, gently.  Instead, I managed to make it until the end.  The balls screamed past me.  The sounds of cannon-fire exploded around me.  One guy had the misfortune of being pegged in his “happy place.”  Basically, that game ended poorly for me.