My Not So Fond Memories of High School P.E.

My Not So Fond Memories of High School P.E.

As a girl growing up in the 1960s, extracurricular team sports, like “Little League” were almost non-existent for girls in the San Francisco Bay Area. For me, that was fine, as I was not a “team sports” kind of girl. I went to dance class—tap and ballet. Still got my tap shoes. 


SOFTBALL: I played waaay-way outfield (like in the parking lot), hoping the ball would never fly in my direction. If it did, I was in big trouble, because I would have to run in close to throw (okay-hand it) to a base person. So humiliating. However, for some strange reason, I was a very good hitter.

BASKETBALL: I made a basket once. For the other team. Enough said.

FIELD HOCKEY: The girls were vicious with their hockey sticks.

ARCHERY: I loved it and was good at it, but it’s not a team sport.

SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING: I missed the first two weeks because of driver education. Therefore, I failed the final production for the class grade. Can you picture it? Everyone was perfectly in sync and knew the moves, and there was me, flopping around in the midst of it. Got an A in Driver’s Education, though.

BADMINTON: I was pretty good at that because we played it often at home. And even though it was a team sport, I liked it! Fun! I whacked the heck out of the little birdie.

TRAMPOLINE: I was good with simple jumping up and down. Not so good at the first and only flip I did. Back then there was no protection cover on the springs, and I landed my flip with one leg through one opening, the other leg through the next, and the spring in my crotch. I cannot begin to convey how that felt. I’m amazed I was able to have children.

VOLLEYBALL: Not good. Not fun.

TRACK: I had asthma. Just thinking about it makes me wheeze.

TENNIS: I was decent and liked it.

GYMNASTICS: Enough said.

JAZZ DANCE: I loved it and, for the first time, loved my teacher. Unlike my previous PE teachers, Mrs. Allen was in good athletic shape and graded on your personal ability. I had fun and got an“A.” Wow!


The transition into John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the early 60s marked a new era for the Fitness Test. Before he took office, Kennedy advocated for youth physical fitness in his article “The Soft American,” published in Sports Illustrated. In the widely popular article, the president fed into Cold War paranoia about American subservience, articulating concerns about children spending too much time watching television and not enough time building strong bodies. The harsh fact of the matter is that there is also an increasingly large number of young Americans who are neglecting their bodies—whose physical fitness is not what it should be—who are getting soft*. And such softness on the part of the individual citizen can help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation.” Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, continued the program.

Every year, we went through days of physical fitness testing. Exercises included pushups, pull-ups, situps, a broad jump, shuttle run, 50-yard dash, softball throw, rope climb, and a one-mile run.

CLIMBING A ROPE: Horrifying.You’ve seen humiliating scenes like this in shows like The Goldbergs. It would have been nice if we’d been taught how to do it. Maybe I missed that class.

SITUPS: I was a pro! Not so much nowadays, though.

PUSHUPS were another matter. I have tiny wrists, so that’s my excuse. I vividly recall my PE teacher standing over me, loudly counting my properly executed pushups. “One! One! One!” I never got to “Two.”

ONE MILE RUN: A wheeze-fest.


When I was fourteen, I got my first horse, Glory Be—a beautiful, funny, skittish, intelligent chestnut quarter horse. A wonderful friend. He died a couple years later, and I nearly died of a broken heart.

Then I rescued a thoroughbred who’d been on the rodeo circuit—brutally mistreated and nameless. I was the first person to give her a carrot, and she bonded with me instantly. It took a lot of work and patience to tame her and teach her proper strides, but we did it. Mandy was a wonderful horse and a dear companion—always willing to listen to my woes. We occasionally showed in equestrian events through my teen years.

*Back then, there were very few overweight, let alone obese, children and adults. President Kennedy would freak out if he saw the condition we’re in now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *