Gym Class at Barringer High

by Harry T. Roman


I can still hear Mr. D's booming voice in Barringer High gym class. We were all sitting Indian style on our floor spots as he came out of the locker room holding a baseball "fungo" bat at arm's length, on the end of which was a rather dirty, smelly, and badly discolored gym t-shirt.

"How many times do I have to tell you guys to take your gym stuff home and wash it?"

"I had to hit this thing three times to kill it. It was running around the floor all by itself. And one of the lockers had a pair of sweatpants in it that was standing up all by itself!"

"From now on, I want every man to take his clothes and strap home every week for a good washing. This is how rashes get started."

"And I want every man showering after gym class. If you don't have a wet towel when you leave you are going right back into the showers, and then dry yourself off with your t-shirt; and you will wear that wet t-shirt for the rest of the day!"

"Do you hear me?"

"Yes Mr. D. (all one voice)"

"Good. Now give me 20 laps around the gym, and no slacking. Track men out front to set the pace."

And so it went in gym class, the time honored tradition of male intimidation. Heaven help you if you "wussied-up". The rules were simple. Don't be prissy about it, because if you did and you messed it up for everyone, the law of the locker room prevailed. Most guys seldom needed a second lesson.

Everyone had an assigned spot on the floor. There were numbers on one wall and letters on the other, and your rump had better be on the designated grid coordinates assigned to you when Mr. D. blew the assembly whistle.

We played lots of physical games like basketball, tumbling, pyramid building, volleyball, and some touch football. Of course there were the inevitable tests like the 60-yard dash, the softball throw, and the dreaded 600-yard dash. Why they called it a dash, I will never know. It was more like the 600-yard death march.

Ugh! That was the worst. We would run it in the park, starting near Park Avenue, all the way down to the famous bust statue in the park, and back again. The trick was do it under 2 minutes. I never did learn that trick.

I was just fine with the softball toss. You play center field on a sandlot baseball diamond and you learn to make that peg to the catcher real quick.

In the 60-yard dash, I was respectable, not a speed merchant, but nimble enough.

Now the gym apparatus, there was a challenge. I stunk on the rings, but don't mess with me on the horse and parallel bars. I wouldn't try either one today, but in my more pliable years, I gave a good accounting of myself.

But what you see those Olympians today do on those is something else to behold--and forget the floor exercises. Holy cow! Nobody I grew up with could do anything near the quality of those champions…. not even with the Newark Police chasing them.

In my neighborhood we had our own form of "apparatus", and athletic events. I remember seeing one notorious neighborhood guy run up a brick wall once in an attempt to elude the friendly, local, peace-keepers.

They were waiting for him on the other side…..

"Step right his way sweetheart, into the nice pretty police car!"

He got the usual Nicky Newark drill, a long slow ride through Branch Brook Park with a sergeant sitting in the back seat with him. He didn't run so good for about two weeks after that. He got the male intimidation cram refresher course.

Back to Barringer gym class…….

About as close to formal floor exercises that we ever did was tumbling, which was lots of fun, especially when done in rapid succession. Some guys could somersault in place, but not while running first and leaping like those athletes on TV.

Our gym was generally partitioned down the middle length-wise. Guys were on one side and girls on the other. Every now and then one of the guys would try and peek through the partition. I saw one guy take a straight right hand jab smack on the kisser as he was peering through. That girl's arm came through the partition like a rocket. The guy's head just snapped back like a doll.

"Hey Mr. D.! She hit me, man."

"Who hit you?"

"One of them girls."

"Were you peeking through the partition?"

"I was just checking to make sure no one had hurt themselves over on the other side."

"Aw, poor baby. Give me ten laps."

"But Mr. D. You know me. I am basically just a lover. I was the victim of aggression."

"If you don't give me ten laps, me and Mr. Fungo are going to give you some real old fashioned aggression."

"I'm moving Mr. D. No need for the bat."

Some guys did not like to get all sweaty or muss up those coiffures and DA's they were sporting. Shower water can wreak havoc on lacquered hair. These guys would try and sneak back into the locker room and not get dirty. They would wet their towels and make believe they took a shower……...

"Hello ladies!" as Mr. D. and Mr. Fungo suddenly appeared.

"Is that a cigarette I smell? Can it be that someone is smoking in my locker room?!"

Very soon thereafter, the screaming began………….

"No Mr. D., not the hair! I got a date tonight."

"Right now you got a date with me gorgeous!"


Guys were flung into the showers. DA's were messed all to hell and back. Mr. Fungo seemed to be everywhere, smacking knees and elbows with lightning fast ferocity.

"Hey you, Mr. Cool. Would you like to eat that cigarette?"

"No Mr. D. Look I put it out. No, no,…..not the bat!"

"Tap…..tap….whack…. smack" (Mr. Fungo)

"Ouch….oooh… knee…..agghhh!!! I'm crippled for life."

"No smart-ass, just until 7th period or so, then you will be fine again."

The sound of bodies hitting lockers stopped all the action outside in the gym as we waited for the inevitable. The door leading into the gym from the locker room would blow open, vomiting desperate men seeking safety. A roaring good laugh greeted their arrival.

"It's wet t-shirts for you bums!"

"And what are you laughing boneheads looking at! I don't smell no sweat yet. Let's work off that baby fat!"

In just a few minutes the gym was back to normal. Basketballs were bouncing. Guys were hitting the floor with regularity. Sneaker skid sounds were everywhere, and the usual arguments over whether somebody fouled someone else were heard once more.

Mr. D. and Mr. Fungo had established order. They stood there surveying their dominion. A slight smile could be seen. The pecking order had been re-affirmed.

All was good again in 4th period gym class.


Today, they would call it inappropriate to do such things, and the poor teachers would be up on charges. Many of us fondly remember our gym teachers. How many were there when a guy really had trouble and no one to talk to? How many times did your principal or one of your teachers ask a gym teacher to have a serious talk with a guy who just couldn't get it together? Ask a team sport player what he thought about his high school coach. Those teachers cared enough to discipline us and you know what……it worked a whole lot better than what I have seen today.

So…..thanks coach…….for caring enough to give us a well-needed boot in the butt!


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