School sports in the 1950’s

Recess at McKenzie Elementary School was often sports centered – not baseball, football or basketball, but tag, hopscotch, jump rope, and other “team” activities. The boys had their side of the yard, the girls had ours and never the twain did meet, so I can’t speak to what the boys engaged in, but tag and double-dutch jump rope were big things for us girls.

We did have real teams, too. The leader, whoever that might be, picked her best friend to captain the opposing team. Sides were then picked, always a daunting necessity. Some girls were good at chase, being taller and long-legged. Some were better at jumping, some at hopping, and some at tripping up the rest of us.

I did okay getting picked until about the fourth grade. That’s when the visiting eye doctor checked everybody’s vision and I started wearing glasses. Of course I could see the blackboard much better, but something weird happened to my depth perception on the playground. Nothing was quite where I thought it was any more. That only messed up my hopscotch skills a little, but running across the schoolyard was suddenly troublesome. Little clumps of grass, pools of rain water or chunks of broken brick kept getting in my way. Soon I became the last one picked no matter what the game, and cheering on the other girls gradually became my “sports” activity.

At Poynor Junior High the schoolyard was replaced by the gymnasium, where phys-ed was a more organized affair. Jumping jacks may not technically be a team sport, but they are supposed to be synchronized. I could manage okay if I stuck to the back row, where I couldn’t accidentally cause a disastrous domino effect. Running around the gym in formation was one way to warm-up for half-court basketball, but I always knew that would be it for me. No-one voluntarily chose me for their side if they could help it. Sometimes they couldn’t help it, like when the teacher did the selecting. Both me and the other girls groaned if she ever appointed me to a team.

Have you ever shot a basket and just knew it was right on? But the ball had a mind of its own and missed the rim by a hair? Every time? I could plainly see where the basket was, and I could plainly throw the ball in exactly the right spot. But it never was exactly the right spot – the refraction of my eyeglass lenses did something peculiar to all that. After a while even the well-meaning PE coach took pity on us all and let me stick to calisthenics. No more team sports for me.

At McClenaghan our physical education classes were shortened and their frequency lessened. Part of the class was spent listening to lectures, part on calisthenics, and part on choosing up sides for basketball or softball. That part of my time was spent on homework. I didn’t mind. I enjoyed watching the teams running and jumping, thoroughly exhausting themselves. Whenever we took the class out to the field behind the school, I sat on the bleachers and read history, occasionally looking up to yell encouragement to the players.

You know, there were distinct sports seasons back then. Fall meant football! Naturally the more accomplished females in gym class went out for cheerleading. Go, Yellow Jackets! I watched a few football games during the fall, but I really looked forward to basketball. That didn’t start until after football was over, and it didn’t require sitting outside in cold weather squinting against the field lights to see who was who under their helmets. In the relative comfort of the gym, despite echoes bouncing off the walls and the gallops of so many big feet, the players were quite distinguishable.

Then, as winter-time basketball was winding up, softball and baseball got under way and you knew it would soon be spring. Occasional breezes got us through the warm, then hot weather, and I was back to holding down a seat in the stadium bleachers. If we had winning or losing seasons I couldn’t tell you right now, but we sure did have enthusiastic teams and fans.

By my last year in high school, even gym class calisthenics were no longer required. Piano lessons, the McClenaghan chorale and choir rehearsals took up my spare time, in between dating. And I was looking forward to college – Francis Marion University was then USC at Florence and thus I pulled for all the Gamecock teams. I still do, but nowadays my own “sports activity” has morphed into flipping the remote control, watching TV while peddling my exercise bike.

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