by Bill Monson

Sports Illustrated says Illinois is the only state which requires daily physical education classes in its schools. That makes me proud. The idea of daily workouts seems wise even if many kids hate it. Most of us lack physical skills (we're about as graceful as a cow on crutches) -- but that's no excuse for becoming a nation of fat-assed couch potatoes.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I liked what we called gym class. At Lombard Junior High, Ray Fritsch ran us boys through a wide range of physical activity indoors and out. There were all the usual sports like touch football, basketball, track and softball. I actually got good at softball; and my best buddy Jack Godsil got so good at pole-vaulting that he won a letter on the Lombard track team.

We also wrestled and tumbled, two sports which taught me a lot about my growing body. For example, I learned how to fall without hurting myself -- a skill which has come in handy across the years.

Coach Fritsch introduced us to soccer -- a sport I came to love. I later shared it with my three children, all of whom played it even better than I did. In the forties, only a few colleges played it. Today, millions of Americans do -- and our women's team is world champion. Coach, you were ahead of your time.

Having said that, though, I must admit most of my classmates preferred a bastard form of soccer where you could use your hands to catch or bat a ball in the air. Americans seem to prefer sports where you get your hands on the ball. (Is that why goalie is so popular in soccer today?)

Were there any P.E. activities I didn't like? Well, I hated running laps around the Lombard track and around the balcony track in the gym. The gym track had tight corners where some of the class sadists would try body blocks they learned from roller derby on TV. I didn't much enjoy dodge ball either because some guys could really smack you with the ball. I never saw much point in any game where inflicting pain seemed a major part of the ''fun.''

Box hockey was one of my unfavorite activities. We played it with cut off brooms and a golf ball. It was pretty dumb, and I always seemed to be paired off with some lug who thought body-checking was included.

Now a confession.

What I enjoyed most were our coed dancing classes. Every now and then, Coach Bergland would bring her girls class to join us. Then, under the guise of learning ''social dancing,'' old shy me got a chance to dance with GIRLS. Most of my friends hated it, but I soon got past the counting of steps to the delights of moving in tandem with a girl. Because I enjoyed it, I got pretty good at it; and I always got picked when the girls picked partners. I even danced with some of the sharper chicks! Talk about good for an adolescent ego!!!

I remember one failed experiment, however. The polka. Some of our testosterone types turned it into a collision sport -- an early example of a mosh pit. Bodies flew all over Lombard Gym, and the school nurse needed all her ice bags before the coaches ended our destruction derby. We never did the polka again!

Yes, like many young people, I was something of a klutz in junior high; but daily gym class helped me through those awkward years. I developed skills that have served me well across half a century. And I salute the wisdom of Illinois in keeping today's young people doing the same.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online June 7, 2000

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