“How much ya bench?”

When I was back in high school, what now seems like a million years ago, my high school offered a couple of different options for the required physical education courses.

The “gym” class was always the great equalizer among the freaks and geeks, the jocks and the needs and very one in between. There was no “honors” gym, as the adjective itself seemed in complete contrast to the spirit of the affair. Going to Staten Island’s largest high school (my graduating class was 303, I was 27th), gave a big mix to this melting pot of people you’d end up with in gym class.

And, given the NYC Board of Educations continual budget crises, gym activities were simple in scope. Basketball. Softball in the summer. Touch football. Soccer. The equipment provided was barebones. Usually a ball. Maybe some cones. But, the most interesting were the people. The superseniors. The superduperseniors (I remember one kid in my junior gym class was 21, and a peer). The kids who had pledged themselves to ROTC and to fight for America. Having been in “gifted” classes for basically my entire education, these tended not to be the people I saw often. Whereas, getting a B or a C in a class, or getting just a 3 on an AP exam was a big deal to “us”, “life” was just more difficult for them. And at the time, I had barely an understanding of what “life” really was – I was by no means “rich”, but my parents had never made me want for anything either. At the same time, I was really lucky to be the first in my family to graduate college.

But what I think about now is these people, and how the gym class created these unlikely friendships, playing on the same pick up teams day after day. Over gym. I wonder what’s become of them. I wonder if they ever think of me. And I wonder if the hand life dealt them ever got better. And I am again thankful for who I am, and what I’ve been allowed to be. And I realize, as I only begun to understand then, that I wasn’t “better” than them. That there’s no way to know how I would have gotten through “life” – in real terms.

And then, I again believe in the power of people. That “life” is the great equalizer, that the “melting pot” had taught me more than I realized at the time.

Just a thought.


  1. Interesting that in your gym class situation, people became equals. My high school was quite small, consisting of primarily students with As and Bs and a small handful of those with lower grades (99% of students go to college). 50% of the students are amazing in sports and use gym class as a warmup for games. The rest of us sat on the ground watching, doing our nails, chatting, doing homework, playing with each others hair, and other non-gym work. Tennis season, however, we all actually got up and played. It was the one time we had any shot at being competitive with the rest of the class.

    I hated it. While I felt on par academically, I felt inferior physically. It’s hard to compete with athletes in gym class.

  2. I think it’s so funny that we attended the same high school at least for a time and I never felt gym was an equalizer, due largely to the fact that I got picked on.

  3. hmm…I think gym was pathetic everywhere. I remember playing indoor badminton and/or volleyball for 90% of the year.
    Although we did have a mix of backgrounds, volleyball usually seemed to bring everyone together for the common goal of winning – also tended to make me popular since I was on the school’s vball team 🙂
    Perhaps that’s why we played it so much (the togetherness, not my popularity)

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