Someone asked me recently what sports I played in high school, as if everybody in high school plays sports. I was not a sports person. My idea of exercise was walking to the library to borrow more books.
I had no desire to play sports, no ability to play sports, and no way to avoid playing sports. Gym was required, so we had to play sports.
Basketball. The worst. After ninth grade, before tenth grade, my family moved to a new town. The other girls had learned to play basketball in the ninth grade. I had not. I was clueless. Well, I did have one clue: I could see that the object was to toss the ball into a basket, preferably the basket assigned to your team.
I did not care to explain my situation to Miss Malone, our rugged, no-nonsense, but not unkind, gym teacher. She would have considerately offered to meet me after school to teach me the rules. I did not want to learn the rules. I wanted to go home and read.
Fortunately, our gym classes were huge, 30 to 40 girls, some of whom actually enjoyed basketball. Because we were so many, nobody got a long turn. I found that I could jounce around the court, looking earnest and sincere, hoping nobody would pass the ball to me which they didn’t because the good players quickly discerned that I was clueless. If Miss Malone thought I looked sincere enough, maybe I would pass gym.
Lacrosse. Learning to pass and catch was a kind of fun. I was not good, but Miss Malone could see me sincerely trying. Lacrosse games did not turn out to be my opportunity to shine.
Volleyball. Wherever you stand, or however untalented you are, eventually you’ll hit the ball in the right direction and look as if you know, and care, what you’re doing.
Tennis? Loser. Girls who loved the game rushed to the tennis-racket rack to choose the best. For me, hanger-back, the only rackets left weighed 85 pounds and required two hands for every swing. I hoped Miss Malone noticed my sincere-looking effort.
Softball. I knew the rules. Because of class size, I didn’t get many at-bats so had few opportunities to strike out. I volunteered for outfield positions where I might not have to do anything except, of course, look sincere.
Gymnastics. Oddly, I was one of the few girls who could swing on the hanging rings, all the way down the line and back. I remember gripping those brown leather rings with grim determination: I would succeed even if it pulled my arms right out of their sockets. It didn’t. This was the only time Miss Malone had occasion to congratulate me for a gym job well done. I sincerely hoped she would remember that.
Fencing. At first, we had only to don heavy equipment and learn poses with French names. I could sort of do that! But before we began to actually poke epees at each other, I had an accident at home. I was helping my mother fix supper when soup boiled over and ran across my right wrist. Ugly burn. The next day, Miss Malone saw my wrist and said, “There’s no way I’m letting you hold an epee with that.” By the time I healed, fencing was over. I might have become honestly sincere about fencing. I might have been a star fencer. I will never know.
Miss Malone kept passing me in spite of my ineptness. Maybe she got tired of watching me try so hard to look sincere.