THOSE WHO CAN'T DO, TEACH,
AND THOSE WHO CAN'T TEACH, TEACH GYM.
--ALVY SINGER, Annie Hall
Few memories unite us like memories of gym class. Not all of us
went to Sunday school, played Little League, sweated through
geometry or got lucky at the junior prom. But most of us--famous
or infamous, rich or poor, big or little, fast or slow, girl or
boy, freak or geek--endured a half-dozen or so years of gym
class. Gym class is such a common touchstone that it has become
a staple of pop culture: Before he traded up to become a
physician, Bill Cosby, as Chet Kincaid, spent two years teaching
gym in the first incarnation of his TV show. In Prom Night
ghastly things started to happen to Jamie Lee Curtis and her
friends when the mischievous Vicki mooned the weird janitor in
the "girls' change room" after gym class. Two Seinfeld
protagonists first met, we learn, when George fell off a rope
during gym class at JFK High and landed on Jerry's head. Few
coming-of-age sitcoms have finished their run without the
obligatory gym-class scene; indeed, Kevin Arnold seemed to
wander through The Wonder Years in a perpetual gym class.
Remember the T-shirt that Eddie Murphy wore in Beverly Hills
Cop? It read: MUMFORD PHYS. ED.
We remember gym class so vividly because it brought out emotions
and existential crises that are central to our development.
Fear. Intimidation. Humiliation. Nausea. Abject failure. Angst.
Neurosis. All that...and showers, too! I've got to come clean
here (which was not always the case when I hurried through a
cold gym-class shower): I rather liked gym, respected most of my
phys-ed teachers and was rarely the class klutz. Still, there
was something serious about gym in my day, oriented as it was
toward competition; competition creating, as it does, winners
and losers; winners and losers creating, as they do, joy and
depression. After watching my two sons plow indifferently
through years of phys ed, I came to realize that gym class, for
better or worse, isn't what it used to be. So many of the
rituals that helped turn us into maladjusted adults are for the
most part gone: stepping into clammy gym suits that smelled like
a biology experiment gone wrong; beginning that perilous climb
up the rope, followed by the humiliating and painful
rope-burn-inducing descent; running pell-mell into walls after
putting your head on the knob of a baseball bat and spinning
around, a sadistic endeavor known as Dizzy Izzy; being joined at
midyear by the girls for a few weeks of square dancing, an
activity that raised hormone levels and crushed toes in equal
measure; going all-out to live up to the expectations of our
beloved dead President in that somewhat inexplicable
physical-fitness test; trying not to be too obvious as you hid
your privates with a towel en route to the showers.
Boy, were those the days or what?
April 23, 2000
The man who led me through many of those adolescent rituals was
Carl T. Anderson, whom I associate with the color gray. Gray
slacks, gray short-sleeved polo shirt. His temperament always
seemed kind of gray, too, somewhere between pleasant and angry,
usually closer to angry, particularly on the day when Bobby
Hennessey marched into gym class wearing long underwear under
his red gym shorts to protest Mr. Anderson's taking us outside
for touch football in November. Just before her son, a freshly
minted physical education graduate of Temple, went off to teach
in March 1957, Mr. Anderson's mother sewed blue piping onto his
slacks to give the outfit some color. But the stripes lent a
military aspect to his bearing, fortified during the years when
he had us marching around the ball field: Left, right, left,
right, to the left flank...harch! Mr. Anderson never looked at
you straight on. He cocked his head and peered at you out of the
corner of his eye, as if you were subhuman, the way a drill
sergeant looks at a raw recruit.
Mr. Anderson taught physical education in the Hamilton Township
School District in southern New Jersey for 39 years before
retiring in 1996. For four of those years, from September '59 to
June '63, fifth grade through eighth, I was in his gym class at
Mays Landing School. I had several gym teachers after Mr.
Anderson (heck, I'm old enough to have had a gym teacher in
college), but Mr. Anderson remains most clearly in my mind, the
gym teacher's gym teacher, the man who drummed into you the
rudiments of sport, the virtue of standing "double arm's length
apart" (the requisite space to execute a jumping jack) and the
inviolate rule that if you forgot your sneakers, you played in
socks. I would say that Mr. Anderson came out of central
casting--the taciturn manner, the rock-solid physique, the
no-nonsense disposition--except that central casting's gym
teachers are invariably sadists or nincompoops with whistles.
(If you can't teach, teach gym.) Which is not to say those types
weren't, and aren't, out there. Mr. Anderson's substitute from
time to time, for example, was a crew-cut Army veteran named Ray
Smith, who was fond of turning suddenly and hurling a volleyball
at the midsection of any male who dared engage in mischief.
I went back to my hometown not long ago to have a chat with Mr.
Anderson. We drove to the old school, and he started shaking his
head as we walked across the playground on which a lone
basketball hoop stood.
"Look, what would you do here?" he said, pointing to the
blacktop, then looking up at me, head cocked.
"Well, I, ah, I'm not sure."
"Paint the lines!" he said. "Make this look like a basketball
court. If it doesn't look like a basketball court, kids don't
treat it like a basketball court. Do things right!"
We entered the school, now being used as an alternative
education facility for disruptive students. A stream of
profanity emanated from what was once my third-grade classroom.
Mr. Anderson shook his head and waved his hand in disgust, a
gesture with which I had been quite familiar decades earlier.
The gym was occupied and noisy, so we talked in the auditorium.
"My philosophy?" said Mr. Anderson. "I believed in mass games.
Break the class into internal squads, try to get an equal
distribution of talent. Then we had instruction. We learned the
basics of all the sports: touch or flag football, soccer,
basketball, volleyball, softball, track and field, gymnastics. I
hated to hear that we didn't spend enough time on this or that.
I hate the trend toward specialization in sports. A mother would
come up to me and say, 'My son really loves soccer,' and I'd
tell her, 'Let him play something else, and maybe he'll love
that, too.' So we played all sports. Hey, I didn't particularly
like gymnastics either. But I adhered to the curriculum. There
could be a few kids in there who stunk in everything else but
were good in gymnastics.
"After we learned the basics in the team sports, we played a
series of games. The competition part. Then we held a
championship." I can close my eyes and still see the won-lost
records posted on a bulletin board outside of Mr. Anderson's
"Look, it wasn't about the championships," he continued. "It was
about learning discipline, teamwork and leadership. The ultimate
thing you were trying to do? Get kids to discipline themselves.
That's when it meant something. And I believed--still
believe--that by learning sports and playing them, whether
you're a good athlete or a bad athlete, you learn discipline,
leadership and teamwork."
Why did we march?
"I got it from my coach in high school," said Mr. Anderson. "I
did it all the way up until two years before I retired. It
provided discipline. It kept you moving. And it helped you learn
your left from your right, a valuable lesson for a lot of kids."
One would be hard-pressed to find someone less militarily
inclined than I am, but to this day I am perfectly attuned to
the rhythms of marching, can execute a perfect pivot when
commanded to do so--to the rear, harch--and have almost never
put on my right blinker when turning left.
Why did we square-dance?
"I square-danced, so you square-danced," said Mr. Anderson. "I
thought it was important to bring the girls and boys together
for a while. And, again, you learned your left from your right.
Remember when you first started, everybody bumping into each
other and going six different ways? But when you were finished,
you were working together, you were a team."
I asked him if he remembered Hennessey strolling in wearing long
underwear. He said he didn't. "But my philosophy always was, You
stay outside until Thanksgiving," he said. "Put on hats and
coats and whatever, but we're going out! And I don't remember
anyone getting pneumonia."
We talked for a while longer, and then we left by the front
door. Mr. Anderson started shaking his head as he ran his hand
along the nicked stair railing.
"Look, you see these marks?" he asked, tilting his head at me.
"What do you think made them? Huh?"
"I, um, I don't know."
"Kids on skateboards," he said. "Man, I'd like to get my hands
on those little so-and-sos."
As early as 1743, Ben Franklin was calling for schools to "have
provisions for running, leaping, wrestling and swimming." But
gym class didn't become a national priority until the Eisenhower
Administration. In 1956 the old general established the
President's Council on Youth Fitness, which John Kennedy changed
to the President's Council on Physical Fitness, which Lyndon
Johnson changed to the President's Council on Physical Fitness
and Sports, which it remains today. To some extent Ike's council
was established in response to a much-publicized 1953 report
that said 58% of American children had failed a muscular fitness
test, compared with only 9% of Austrian, Italian and Swiss
children. So America did what it does best: It threw money at
the problem. The government took surveys, established councils,
convened meetings. The upshot was a test that would reveal the
extent of our youth's lack of physical fitness. When Ike and
especially JFK embraced the test, it came to be known as the
Presidential Fitness Test or the President's Youth Fitness Test
or the President's Test or that President's Thing We've Got to
Do in Gym Class.
Ah, nothing defined high school gym class in my era like that
test, which consisted of pull-ups, sit-ups, the standing long
jump (we called it the broad jump), the shuttle run, the 50-yard
dash, the softball throw and the 600-yard run. In most classes,
including mine, the test was conducted without proper training.
Having never done a sit-up the entire year, I remember being
doubled over in abdominal agony after practically killing myself
to get to the magic number of 100. Determined to have the
fastest time in the class, I recall taking off like a sprinter
in the 600-yard run, then feeling frightened as first a
brushfire, then a raging conflagration scorched my lungs; though
I had played sports my entire life, I had probably never run
more than 200 yards at one time. And what the hell did the
softball throw have to do with physical fitness?
But the President's Fitness Test conferred a kind of official
status on gym class. It reflected our national ethos: Compete,
be the best, pound those Russkies into submission. If touch
football on the splendid lawns of Hyannis Port was one of the
foundations of Camelot, then by god we were going to play touch
football in gym class. Bring your gym suit, put on your
sneakers, go mano a mano, take a shower, get your ass back in
here on Wednesday. That was gym. Though I have no doubt that
parents, teachers, administrators and school boards took boys'
phys ed more seriously than girls' phys ed--in the 1950s and
'60s we did not yet know that girls could actually kick a soccer
ball--females were definitely included in the mandate to improve
America's physical fitness. For four years under Mr. Anderson
and for all four years of high school, boys' and girls' gym
requirements were exactly the same: a minimum of 150 minutes a
week. And you know what? When physical fitness was evaluated on
a national scale in 1965, scores on the President's Test had
vastly improved since its inception in '58. So I shall proclaim
1964 through 1967, which coincided with my high school years, as
the Golden Age of Gym Class.
To explain what happened to gym over the next three decades
requires more space than is available here, but suffice it to
say that society went through wrenching changes and gym class
did, too. Authoritarian gym teachers who kept their classes
outside until Thanksgiving became anachronisms. Reviled
anachronisms. Title IX came along in 1972, which led to boys and
girls being thrown together in gym, so teachers had to figure
out something that could keep both genders occupied; the law
still mandates coed classes except in the so-called "contact
sports" of touch football, wrestling, lacrosse, rugby and,
surprisingly, basketball. In the 1970s reading and math scores
started to decline nationally, so money was taken from phys ed
and put into those areas. Meanwhile, the race to get Johnny and
Jill into "good schools" reached psychotic levels, and good
schools were looking for kids who took advanced placement
history, not kids who earned a patch in the President's Test.
The same parents who would storm the school to question their
third-grader's B- on a math test never said squat about the
declining emphasis on gym.
Gymnasium space was at a premium, so gym classes grew to be too
large. Academic options became so variegated, even in elementary
and middle school, that gym class was marginalized. Mandatory
showers? Not enough time. Gym suits? Administrators said there
wasn't enough money to buy them, and parents balked at picking
up the tab. The message came through loud and clear: Gym isn't
important. Competitive team sports? Now, they're important. So,
gym teachers who were also coaches began to spend more time
plotting a 1-3-1 zone for their after-school studs than teaching
Johnny how to climb the rope. A roll-out-the-ball mentality
began to take hold, particularly in high schools. School
districts started replacing gym class with almost anything--even
band. "Some schools give gym-class exclusions for any activity
that involves moving," says Judith C. Young, executive director
of the National Association for Sports & Physical Education
(NASPE), a professional society based in Reston, Va. In my day
the only thing that got you out of gym, aside from an artfully
forged doctor's excuse, was participation in an interscholastic
The President's Fitness Test, now called the President's
Challenge, reflects the change in gym. The test has five
elements: curl-ups (a modified form of sit-ups); a one-mile
run/walk; a shuttle run; pull-ups; and the sit and reach, a
flexibility test. Its kinder and gentler nature is reflected in
its four "levels of recognition." The high-achieving student can
still earn the Presidential Fitness Award by finishing in the
top 15%, but there are three other award levels. If you try at
all, you'll get an award. When the original test was instituted,
those who didn't earn the Presidential Award--which was almost
everybody--could go pound sand. "The idea now," says Christine
Spain, director of research, planning and special projects for
the President's Council, "is for everybody to be a winner." Oh,
Since the Kennedy years, setting gym-class requirements has been
basically left up to state boards of education, most of which
make it a low priority. A recent NASPE survey found that
virtually every state has reduced its phys-ed requirements since
the Kennedy years. Consider:
--Only about 26% of U.S. high school students get daily phys ed.
Illinois is the only state that requires it.
--Forty percent of high school students are not enrolled in gym
class of any kind; for high school seniors the number is a
--Three states--Colorado, Mississippi and South Dakota--have no
--Only seven states require elementary schools to have certified
phys-ed instructors, meaning that classroom teachers are often
responsible for teaching gym.
--In a 1997 Phi Delta Kappa Gallup poll, 54% of adults said that
public school curricula should be improved but only 2% mentioned
health-related education as one of the focus areas; math and
English, by contrast, drew 90% and 84%, respectively.
The saddest thing about the decline in physical education is
that we now know so much about the benefits of physical fitness
and the perils of a sedentary lifestyle. Principals and
school-board members who themselves may be in fitness programs
are often the ones who slash budgets and resources for gym
class; they do so even as they are inundated with reports about
the obesity crisis in our Twinkie-eating, TV-watching,
video-game-playing younger generation.
Take the small Udall (Kans.) School District. In 1997 the
superintendent at the time transferred the phys-ed
responsibilities at the elementary school to the principal,
reduced P.E. to one nine-week stretch per year in the middle
school and, at the high school level, made it mandatory only for
ninth-graders. (One optional weightlifting class remains
available to sophomores, juniors and seniors.) Why? Cutting back
phys ed enabled the district to eliminate the job of one teacher
and thereby save money. "But they also cut a lot of spirit out
of that district when they cut phys ed," says Brad Haas, the
teacher whose job was eliminated. If that sounds like sour
grapes from a former employee--Haas now works in the Belle
Plaine (Kans.) School District--Udall's current superintendent,
Roger Robinson, a phys-ed major who has coached and refereed for
25 years, feels much the same way. "Yes, I think we need more
phys ed, particularly at the elementary level, because you need
to get kids active early," says Robinson, who has increased the
amount of time that elementary school kids spend in gym class.
"But once something is gone, it's hard to get it back. The money
isn't there." What happened at Udall has happened somewhere in
every state in the nation.
At the school my sons attended, Liberty High in Bethlehem, Pa.,
I recently watched four gym teachers put about 130 kids through
their paces; some of the kids lifted weights, some played
kickball, some engaged in a good old-fashioned game of
bombardment. These kids have gym five days a week, 90 minutes a
day. However--like students in Udall--they have it on a
nine-week cycle once a school year. That means that some
students have it early in their sophomore year but not again
until late in their junior year. "Missing gym class for more
than an entire calendar year does not exactly provide the
'regular physical activity' that's supposed to be our goal,"
says Bill Ruth, a Liberty gym teacher.
Now, the good news. The decline in the quality of phys ed has
sounded an alarm among many gym teachers. A 1996 Surgeon
General's report that pointed to the deficiencies of physical
education has given concerned educators a smoking gun, something
to take to state and local boards of education. The Physical
Education for Progress bill, sponsored by Ted Stevens (R.,
Alaska), has been introduced in the Senate; it would authorize
the Secretary of Education to make grants or work with school
districts to improve phys-ed programs.
Over the past few months I've seen some terrific elementary,
middle school and high school gym classes. In Michael Cosgrove's
phys-ed class at Oak Brook Elementary in suburban St. Louis, I
learned how to juggle from Jared Barbee, an earnest
fifth-grader. "Mr. Cos said to start you with scarves," said
Jared. "See, they float, so you can see what you're doing
easier." All around me, fifth-graders were juggling. Some, like
Jared, were adept enough to juggle balls, rings and pins. Others
could toss up only two scarves and barely catch them. At least
one young man had draped a scarf across his face as if he were
going to hold up a bank, thereby restoring my faith that things
haven't changed completely.
Cosgrove, 51, who was named a National Teacher of the Year by
NASPE in 1999, says he teaches juggling because "it's a
cross-lateral activity," a phrase I'm quite sure has never
rolled off Mr. Anderson's tongue. Cosgrove reinforces positively
and endlessly: I like the way Clayton is helping Mr. Cos. I want
you to write down two things you really liked about your
partner's juggling and one thing you think he should or could
add to make the routine even better. Practice makes perfect if
you practice perfectly. His classes are models of organization
and efficiency. There were 50 students in the small gym, but he
had two other P.E. teachers to help him. The kids were subtly
divided according to their ability, and each group was given
encouragement. Cosgrove began the class with warm-up drills,
Michael Jackson's Beat It pounding through the gym. Then the
students stretched. Then they named the muscles they were
stretching. When the 50-minute session was over, the class
stacked the pins and balls and scarves, arranging the latter
into their pink, orange and yellow piles, except for the bandito
who kept a scarf in the air by blowing under it. He finally put
it away, and then the kids lined up and marched out, passing
another class of 50 that was marching in.
A few miles down the road I watched eighth-grade students at
Rockwood Valley Middle School propel themselves on scooters
through an obstacle course dotted with balloons, hoops, nets,
rings and mats. The goal of the drill was not only to provide
the students with aerobic exercise but also to help them learn
about blood circulation. "You're passing through the tricuspid
valve and the right ventricle!" yelled the teacher, Sue Tillery,
above the blaring of The Trampps's Disco Inferno. Then Tillery
led her charges through a rigorous 15-minute circuit that
included step aerobics, dribbling a soccer ball, shooting a
basketball, jumping rope and jogging, all the while keeping tabs
on their heart rate through the monitors strapped to their
chests. In another section of Tillery's school, kids in gym
class were having a scavenger hunt; in another, they were
throwing real darts at boards hung on a wall near teachers'
But do Cosgrove's and Tillery's classes represent gym in the
real world? (Do darts and scavenger hunts, one might ask,
represent gym at all?) I suggested to both teachers that while
their techniques were superb, those techniques wouldn't
necessarily be applicable in other schools. Both teach in
well-heeled districts where parental support is high, resources
are abundant--Tillery's heart monitors, which cost about $200
each, are budgeted for about one out of every two eighth-graders
in the district--and students are attentive. Would anyone hand
out darts to kids in, say, New York City, where public schools
are at 130% occupancy? That means gymnasiums are being used for
lunch and math, never mind juggling and step aerobics. In New
York City fewer than 40% of high schools have their own athletic
fields, and virtually no middle or elementary school does;
Cosgrove's elementary school, by contrast, has not only athletic
fields but also a nature trail on which his gym classes can run
But Tillery and Cosgrove subscribe to the premise that good gym
classes can be taught anywhere. "Wherever you teach, you have to
sell your program," says Tillery, a NASPE National Teacher of
the Year in 1994. "Good gym classes don't just happen. Teachers
make them happen. Kids want to have their love of play
validated. That's what good gym classes do."
A few weeks later I watched Joe Featherston, a craggy
52-year-old veteran of the New York City public school system,
work magic amid the teeming mass of humanity at Benjamin N.
Cardozo High in Queens. "Tank ya for yer help," he tells a
student who has put away equipment. That's Featherston's version
of I like the way Clayton is helping Mr. Cos. In a basement
classroom at Cardozo, a space about half the size of the Oak
Brook gym, Featherston keeps up a relentless stream of chatter
as he leads 40 juniors and seniors in an aerobic workout,
conducted amid a cluttered landscape of secondhand weight
machines and treadmills. "Hey, hey, Jones Beach is three months
away. You wanna look good out dare, right?" "Hey, you got a big
gut and maybe catsup heah on yer shirt, and ya go for a job
interview. Ya tink yer gonna get it?" "Hey, No-Doz and coffee
and all dat crap? It's no good. Ya gotta exercise!" Later, a
senior in the class, Ryan Goldstein, will allow that "some kids
think Mr. Featherston is a little annoying, but if he didn't
keep on us, we wouldn't get enough out of this class."
Upstairs, in the regular gymnasium, about 120 kids, spread over
four courts, are playing volleyball. It's not the best
atmosphere in which to play the game, but it's not the worst
either. In a classroom Shirley Rushing, a former professional
dancer who's on the Cardozo phys-ed staff, is leading a couple
dozen girls (no boys signed up) in a modern dance class. In a
small auxiliary gym Neil Baskin is instructing a class of about
50 in...yoga? "I got into it, so I might as well teach it,
right?" says Baskin, a gym teacher. "I mean, why just roll out
the balls? That sucks, right?" Good gym classes don't just
happen. Teachers make them happen.
Cosgrove, Tillery, Featherston and Baskin all practice what is
known as the New Phys Ed. Movement is emphasized over skills.
("Touch football in gym is valuable not as an end unto itself,"
says Stephen Coulon, a professor of physical education at
Springfield [Mass.] College, "but because it teaches the
concepts of chase, flee and dodge.") Becoming proficient at
specific sports is no longer a goal. ("We don't teach basketball
anymore," says Bobbie Harris, a project director in the Wichita
State sports sciences department. "We use basketball to teach
kids to be active.") The curriculum is geared to serve all the
students, not just the athletically gifted ones. (Remember the
climbing rope that did in George Costanza? Cosgrove has three
ropes, two of them with knots in them so everyone can climb a
little.) Letting kids pick and choose from a menu of sports
replaces the here's-what-we're-doing-today mind-set of
traditional gym teachers. ("Variety is the key to making gym
class work," says Alexis Smith, a Cardozo senior.) Gym-class
games are more cooperative than competitive. ("Physical
education is not athletics," says Cosgrove. "Teamwork and
cooperation are more important than keeping score. We are
looking to find the value in each individual.") Needless to say,
you won't find standings posted outside Mr. Cos's door.
The New Phys Ed makes a lot of sense. To some degree we were in
the Dark Ages back there in Mr. Anderson's class. We did jumping
jacks and squat thrusts, but never any stretching or
weightlifting. We didn't name the muscle groups. We didn't do
cross-lateral activities. We didn't ride scooters through the
stations of the heart. For all I know, someone may indeed have
But 40 years later I hold to the premise that the Old Phys Ed,
Mr. Anderson's phys ed, made a lot of sense, too. A friend and
former classmate of mine, Bob Fink, remembers Mr. Anderson
handing him a football to take home so Bob could practice with a
neighbor who wasn't adept at throwing. "The fact that he wanted
that kid to get better has stuck with me all these years," says
Fink. Another former classmate, Angelo Agro, the smartest kid I
ever knew but one of the most unathletic, a man who recalls
needing a rest stop while running the 50-yard-dash portion of
the President's Test, also has pleasant memories of Mr.
Anderson's class. "He never made you feel like a turkey even if
you were a turkey," says Agro, who's a physician. "You learned
fundamentals. You learned about teamwork. For years I watched my
own kids get excused from gym class for a hangnail, so I have to
think I got a lot more out of gym class than they did. Heck, I
played on championship gym-class teams. That's something."
So here's to the men and women with whistles around their necks
and gymnasiums full of hormones to keep occupied. Here's to the
Cosgroves and the Tillerys and the Featherstons and, especially,
to the Mr. Andersons, traces of whom must still exist out there.
They can teach; they just happen to teach gym.
Phys Ed & Film
Gym-class scenes have long been a staple of the movies.
Herewith, one man's Top Five list.
Porky's (photo below)
Probably the most remembered gym-class scene--particularly by
adolescent males--has the horny lads from Angel Beach High
peering predictably into the girls' shower through holes in the
wall to enjoy what one of them calls "the biggest beaver shoot
in the history of Florida." Before that there's a ridiculous
scene in the gymnasium in which the basketball team and the
majorettes are holding practice while a girls' gym class goes
Revenge of the Nerds
After the freshmen losers are forced to move into the gymnasium
because their dorm has been taken over by the football team
(i.e., the Alpha Beta fraternity)--"You can stay as long as you
like," they are told by a school official, "or at least until
basketball season"--they suffer all sorts of indignities, such
as a flying basketball from gym class landing in a vat of their
Cher (Alicia Silverstone) issues a declaration as she waits for
her turn to swat a tennis ball in gym class at Bronson Alcott
High: "Ms. Stoeger, I would just like to say that physical
education in this school is a disgrace. I mean, standing in line
for 40 minutes is hardly aerobically effective. I doubt I worked
off the calories in a stick of Carefree gum." The class
applauds. Another student has a note from her tennis instructor
asking that the gym teacher not "derail" his teaching, and a
third says her plastic surgeon prefers that she not participate
in any activity in which "balls fly at my nose."
Rock 'n' Roll High School
Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) announces that gym class at Vince
Lombardi High "is called on account of boring," then ignites
maybe the best gymnasium dancing scene ever, as she and female
classmates jitterbug over and around balance beams, uneven bars
and jump ropes, while a recording of the Ramones plays in the
First Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is responsible for her team's
losing a gym-class volleyball game--"We can't win a game with
her on the team," somebody yells. Then she's forced to cower in
the shower, bleeding from her first period, while her classmates
hurl towels and tampons at her. It's not only the most
horrifying gym-class scene ever filmed; it's one of the most
horrifying scenes of any kind ever filmed. --J.M.
The President's Test reflected our national ethos: compete, be
the best, pound those Russkies into submission.
"Missing gym class for more than a calendar year doesn't exactly
provide the 'regular physical activity' that's supposed to be
our goal," says Ruth.
"Good gym classes don't just happen," Tillery says. "Teachers
make them happen. Kids want to have their love of play validated."
"The ultimate thing you were trying to do?" says Anderson. "Get
kids to discipline themselves. That's when it meant something."
According to a recent survey, only about 26% of U.S. high
school students get daily phys ed. Illinois is the only state
that requires it.
"Physical education is not athletics," Cosgrove says. "Teamwork
and cooperation are more important than keeping score."