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Sports Confessions of a Teenaged Klutz

by Stacia Friedman

August 24, 2012

You remember me. When you were in grade school, I was the last kid picked by any team captain, regardless of the sport. Yes, that was me. The pale girl with the frizzy hair and arms like toothpicks.

My response to a ball hurled in my direction had nothing to do with winning. It was Duck and Cover. I viewed all sports as a potentially hazardous to my well-being and my experience only confirmed my fears. The brain of a bright boy in my seventh grade class was turned into Play Dough by a golf ball that hit him in the head. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So I ask you: Why look for trouble?

My gym teachers didn't help. They singled me out for punishment. "Little Friedman, you're playing wing." (I was not short of stature. And "little" was not a term of endearment. It was meant to put me in my place.)

Wing? God no! That meant running the entire length of the hockey field, exposing my precious limbs to an army of aggressive, muscular girls in maroon uniforms, brandishing large wooden sticks. Every time they hit the ball, I cringed. THWACK!  That could've been my kneecap. THWACK! Or my eye. My mind raced with life-saving schemes. I can say I have my period. Again. For the third time that month.  Or I can get a note  from my mother excusing me from gym class forever. She would go along with it. After all, she was the one always expressing concern for my safety. "You could poke your eye out with that thing." Or "Come out of the water now. You're turning blue.'

My mother didn't write the note. Instead, I used psychology to wear down my teammates and gym teachers. You can make me play, but you can't make me put myself in harm's way. When a projectile came my way, I stepped aside. When the other team charged, I retreated at full speed. In war, I would've been court-martialed or shot. But at Lower Merion High School in the plush suburbs of Philadelphia, what could they do but glower and curse?

Ironically, my self-preservation techniques were admired by others who shared my horror of physical exertion. Which is how I made the acquaintance of Bunny Rosenbloom, a tenth grader who had failed gym so many times, she had to take the class five times a week. Bunny's other claim to fame was the fact that she was the only girl in the school who wore black fishnet hose, a black beret and chewed gum incessantly. She taught me how to apply eyeliner with a brush and spit. How to smoke. And told me things about sex that, up until that point, were just rumor. Although our gym teacher threatened to keep us both from graduating, we somehow slogged through and celebrated by burning our gym uniforms in the Roseblooms' fireplace. To this day, Bunny has preserved the remains of her uniform in a plastic vial. All that's left is a lump of gray ash and some metal snaps that jingle when you shake it.

Schools push team sports and that's a shame, especially for loners like me who don't see the point in keeping score and prefer the solitary pleasures of yoga, dance and daydreaming. (Do you have any idea how many calories you can burn just imaging a menage a trois with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz?)

However, over the years I have identified one sport for which I have a natural affinity. Skee Ball. I love the sound of those wooden balls as they click-click-click in place. It's all about the eye, the hand and that moment of release. So far, I have won only black plastic spiders. But I have my dreams. When Skee Ball is recognized as an Olympic sport, I will represent my country with pride and all those "team players" who laughed at me in high school will say, "Hey, Little Friedman won gold!"

(Photo: Skeeball at Seattle Sports Center, 2007. Wikimedia Commons.)

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Stacia Friedman is the founding editor of and plays Skee Ball at the Jersey Shore.

Also see "Athletically Disinclined: My Counterpoint" by Gabrielle Korn in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See "Yoga in the City: Counteracting Push and Shove" by Natalie Peart in the Cafe of this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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