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A non-athlete remembers the trauma of PE

Maverick Notes

HURLINMemories of elementary school tend to become a little hazy after you hit 17-18 years old. First, second, third and fourth grade all become a blur of fractions, learning the difference between “your” and “you’re” and running around on the playground without a care in the world.

I happened to be one of the TAG kids in elementary school, so I don’t particularly remember struggling with any actual schoolwork. But seven years after I left elementary school forever, I can still remember PE classes rather vividly. And as a little kid who liked to draw, read and write for hours on end as opposed to kicking a ball around, PE was the closest I came to living a nightmare.

I understand the importance of PE, of course. America suffers from an obesity problem, largely due to the large disparity between socioeconomic classes and the growing power and accessibility of fast food chains. It’s more important than ever that public schools offer healthy lunches and have strong physical education programs, not only for children to play kickball, but also to teach them good diet and exercise habits. And if I remember correctly, children have a lot of energy, and PE is a productive outlet for that energy.

But this doesn’t mean that I don’t look back on every PE class I’ve taken and cringe.

I dreaded the two days a week when my class marched in a single-file line down the hallways and into the cold gym. I wasn’t an athlete by any sense of the word. I tried playing soccer for a few years, but I wasn’t any good at it, and there’s no fun in being the local disappointment. I can still remember one girl whispering to another, “Do you think Skye’s the worst player on the team?”

I tried softball in fifth grade, but I was terrified of the ball coming anywhere near my face. I gave up on team sports after that, but my school sure didn’t. Twice a week, we played kickball, or soccer, or basketball, or badminton. (Yes, I was bad at that too.) I was clumsy, awkward and uncomfortable, and I knew that there were a million better ways to be spending my time.

It’s said that we all get bullied in elementary school, and that it’s a fact of life. Now, I don’t think it should be treated so flippantly, as I remember often sprinting to the bathroom with tears running down my face after being laughed and jeered at. At least once a week, I would find myself begging the PE teacher to let me sit out, or fake being sick just to avoid the taunts and the judgmental looks. PE was the biggest source of my misery in third through fifth grade, and that discomfort and shame continued into PE classes in middle school and even high school, where teasing becomes more insidious.

So PE was difficult for me. This doesn’t mean I want the whole class defunded or canceled, but there should be more options made available for the kids like me who dreaded the class and cried all the way through it. Children who don’t want to play games because they’re bad at sports and victims of bullying should be able to engage in energetic activities that don’t involve playing on a team. They could run, or swing, or jump rope, or even dance. Gyms could be separated into two halves: one for the athletes, and one for the non-athletes.

Children should be encouraged to join teams, but not pressured, and certainly not forced. As schools become more accessible for children who don’t necessarily fit into social norms, administrators should take comfort and happiness into consideration when it comes to PE classes. After all, there’s nothing healthy at all about being teased.

Not being good at sports isn’t the end of the world, as I’ve learned through academic and artistic accomplishments, but it sure feels that way when a whole crowd of your peers is laughing at you. Had I been able to just run and jump around by myself or with a friend, maybe PE would have become a blur just like the rest of elementary school.

Riverdale High School senior Skyle Hurlin is one of two Maverick Notes columnists. Contact her at education@lakeoswegoreview.com.