November 30th…“DID YOU EVER EXPERIENCE GYMNASTICS IN YOUR BATTLE GROUND HIGH SCHOOL DAYS?”
“Noorlun, you pull a stunt like that again and you’re dead meat! You understand?” So said my Physical Education teacher, Mr. Butch Hill.
The circumstances leading up to this statement being shared to me were both fun and sneaky at the same time. It was 1970-71 and my Junior year there at Battle Ground High School in Battle Ground, Washington.
Having come from an independent lifestyle of farming, back in our Minnesota days, I tended to be more prone to individualistic sports that pitted me either against a time clock, one opponent, or against my own desire to see what I could do to better myself. I know that some farm families, back home in the Midwest, were full on in their support of following the team-based venues of baseball, football, basketball etc.. For me, though, my father had come through the Great Depression of the 1930’s and his world was pretty much one thing……..work. Oh, sure, he’d play some horseshoes during family picnics and the like. But, when it came to any kind of team sports, Dad had no interest, whatsoever. Matter of fact, I can clearly still hear him saying to me, “I just can’t understand why grown men can chase a little ball around a field all day!!”. To Dad, team sports were just the silliest thing. That patriarchal lack of enthusiasm, gleaned from my dad, for team sports, rubbed off on me, as well.
We called it P.E. (Physical Education) class. Our teacher was a relatively new member to the “Tiger” faculty and his name was Mr. Butch Hill. Mr. Hill was a strapping, fine example of “walking the talk” when it came to exemplifying the epitome of being in excellent physical condition to “preach n teach” the various disciplines of building our bodies through various sports.
As in almost all high school programs, when it was our time for P.E., we’d head for the High School Locker Rooms to remove our street clothes and “suit up” in P.E. shorts, T-shirt and gym shoes. It was a daily prerequisite in preparation for whatever new muscle-building sport we were going to learn at that time of the school year. It was late Winter of 1971 and Spring was just around the corner. It was at this time of the curriculum schedule year that a unit was to be taught in the overall sport of gymnastics.
At that time, in the sport history of Battle Ground High, we did not have an actual gymnastics sports team. So, I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter in P.E. and its various components really intrigued me. Coach Hill took us through the gamut of learning various tumbling moves and then began to teach us about the multiple gymnastic equipment devices that could be used to perform on. The list included Parallel Bars, High Bar, Still Rings, Vault, Pommel Horse, etc.. Each facet of learning challenges were taught to us as we’d meet each day for this P.E. unit of training. A spark lit up within me when it came to the apparatus called Parallel Bars. The more I practiced, the more confident I became in traversing on this equipment from one strength move to another. Sadly though, like any P.E. teaching unit, our gymnastics training times had come to an end and, since the warmer days of our 1971 Spring had arrived, Coach Hill let us know that the following day, we’d be heading outside the Locker Rooms to begin the next unit of teaching which was to be Baseball.
Baseball??? Awww, heck! That’s one of those team sports, and those didn’t appeal to me, at all! I wanted to continue to “play” on the parallel bars and learn more strength moves there. Being that our school mascot was the “Tiger”, I sensed a quiet tiger beginning to stir and growl within me. Yet, being the mild-mannered guy I was, I just decided that I’d find a way to do what I wanted, when I wanted. So, here is what I conspired, within my own little sneaky teenage heart, to do. Each day, I’d saunter into the P.E. Locker Rooms, like usual. I’d pull off street clothes and suit up in my P.E. shorts, T-shirt and gym shoes. I’d even sit on the bench with the guys while Coach Hill would call off “roll call” for attendance. But, then, I’d linger a bit while the class began to filter out of the Locker Room and head for the nearby baseball diamond. Me? I’d head the opposite direction as I’d sneak my way out of the Locker Room and climb the wooden stairwell that led upstairs to the top deck of our giant West Gym. Up there, behind the expanding bleachers, is where our school kept the wrestling mats AND “my” parallel bars. So as not to go beyond my class period time and arouse attention, I’d watch the clock go by as I’d work on my various bar routines and got to be pretty good at the “bars”.
Seeing that the clock on the wall was getting close to the end of that class period. I’d then boogie back downstairs to the Locker Rooms as my other classmates were beginning to filter back in from the baseball class unit outdoors. I’d nonchalantly take my shower, get my street clothes back on and then, when the clanging of the next class bell rang, would head for my next class. I thought I was pretty sneaky and it appeared that I was “getting away with it, too”. Till one dayyyyyyy……..I was doing my workout on the parallel bars upstairs when I heard some adult-sized footsteps coming up the squeaky wooden stairwell of the Old West Gymnasium. I dodged out of sight around the corner of those folding bleachers as I heard the glass-paneled door crrrreak open on its hinges. I just held my breath and waited. Pretty soon, the old door creaked back shut and I heard those same footsteps descending those same squeaky wooden steps. I figured I had fooled them; whoever “them” may have been. I performed some more moves on the “bars” and then slipped back downstairs, like usual, for my shower and re-dressing for my next class. Riiiiing, went the hallway bells to signal the end of P.E.class. Exiting the Locker Rooms, I made a beeline for the start of my next class which would begin within about 5 minutes. I passed the school cafeteria, on my left, and was heading up the nearby ramp to my next class.
“Heyyy Noorlun!” called out Mr. Hill from behind me. I see he’s been walking at a quick step and is now up along side of me as we walk up the ramp to the hallway intersection. “Yes Sir?”, I responded with as much feigned teenage innocence as I could muster. “O.K. buddy.” said my teacher, “I KNOW you were up there!” (even though he didn’t SEE me working out on the parallel bars)……“You KNOW you’re supposed to be with us outside learning baseball!” “So get this, Noorlun, you pull a stunt like that again and you’re gonna be dead meat!! You understand?” The “jig was up”, my sneaky bubble had burst!! What else could I say, but, “Yes, Sir, I understand”.
Having been brought to “justice”, there I was, the following day, sitting on the baseball bench outside with the rest of my P.E. classmates. I was bored, uninterested and wondering if I had been betrayed by one of these “goody two shoes” sitting on either side of me? Or, it was likely that Coach Hill just put the puzzle together in not seeing me outside on the baseball diamond for X number of days.
In retrospect, I can fully understand the legalities, liabilities and ethical necessity that had to be brought into force, by Coach Hill, to make my behaviors change for my own good. What if I had taken a fall up there on the parallel bars without proper supervision for safety, etc.. It’s very possible that I could have literally broken my neck or back and would’ve been killed or paralyzed for life. Regarding this life incident, I have mused over the Scripture verse from Hebrews Chapter 12 and Verse 11, which says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (New International Version) Even though I loved the Parallel Bars, it was definitely a time of correction needed for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.