At Ivanhoe Elementary School we had recess and P.E. Everything was active and co-ed. There was handball, kickball, rings and monkey bars. The boys may have kicked the ball a little further and run a little faster, but we played together.
Those were also the days of President Kennedy’s physical fitness campaign for young people. Suddenly words like “standing long jump” and “sit-ups” entered my vocabulary. I distinctly remember being very impressed with a boy named Chuck (who always reminded me of Gil Favor from the television Western “Rawhide”) because he was able to do 200 sit-ups. My personal best was fifty in one minute. I’m sure neither Chuck’s abs nor mine show any evidence of these athletic feats.
Once I entered Thomas Starr King Junior High, things changed. The girls played softball and volleyball and the boys climbed a rope to the ceiling of the gym, played football and baseball. The girls and boys, for obvious reasons, had separate locker rooms. The women P.E. teachers all wore white polo shirts, white Bermuda shorts and white canvas shoes. I guess at the time I never really noticed or felt slighted by the different curriculum. Just being in the locker room with my new breasts was traumatic enough.
By the time I started at John Marshall High School, things were perceptively different. The girls did archery and jumping jacks. We were taught to raise our arms and push our hands together chanting: “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.” I remember once we just lay on the cool gym floor because it was such a hot day. Perhaps the teacher had a hangover.
On the other side of the gym and locker room, things were much different. There things called varsity and JV. There was a boy’s swimming team, track and field team, tennis team, basketball team, baseball team and cross country team. All these teams were photographed annually for the school yearbook looking serious, muscular and manly. One look at the yearbook shows that the only “athletic” outlet for girls was the drill team.
In an attempt to get out of school early for home and away football games, I joined the drill team. It counted as a P.E. class and gave me a legal exit from the doldrums of my geometry class and memorizing theroms taught by a guy who wore the same suit every day.
As “drillettes” (my word, not theirs) our job was to march perkily out onto the field at half time, accompanied by the marching band that had much grander uniforms. We would execute sharp turns and form shapes on the grass that we would never see from the stands. It meant memorizing and counting steps and being slightly military. Rumor had it that the supervising P.E. teacher had a military past.
One semester of wearing white gloves, and a dress uniform that was a cruelly ugly, was enough for me. The thin cotton, knee length dress was powered blue, sleeveless and accented with a darker blue vee at the neck and matching belt. The hideousness of the uniform was matched only by my hair that was growing out after a very bad Julie Andrews cut that I hated from the minute I exited the “beauty” salon. Drill Team student leaders got to wear whistles around their necks.
Had I stuck it out for a second football season I would have worn a much snazzier and shorter uniform and the student leaders got dark blue, shiny braids on their left shoulders. But I came to the quick realization that remembering marching steps and theroms had a lot in common. Neither was fun. And neither has ever been of any practical use to me in my life so far.
In a previous post I mentioned Patsy Mink and Title IX. She went to bat for women—and fought against the Viet Nam War. Although she has since passed away, I would like to thank her for what she did as a congresswoman from Hawaii. Now girls can compete in everything: wrestling to lacrosse. And hopefully no more high school girls will have to suffer the terrible uniforms of a drill team unless they truly want to march around a grass field at half time in a meaningless exercise. Drill Team was a poor girl’s cheerleader.