Since the Olympics are winding down and in a rare feat, an American lady won a medal in weight lifting, and since school is about to start, here’s one high school memory that I don’t mind sharing.There’s no Civil War link this week.
Green shorts at Longview High School were a questionable status symbol because athletes didn’t earn them. Athletes earned letter jackets.
Green shorts were earned in physical education class and were the prize I most yearned for in the spring of 1967. Green shorts were awarded to those who earned an A+ on the six-weeks test in PE class. Everyone else wore white shorts.
The test was the same each six weeks: In one class period complete 80 sit-ups in two minutes, 60 squat-thrusts in one minute. Do 40 push-ups, and 20 chin-ups. No modifications, no grading curve. Six weeks to prepare for one hour of testing.
Coach told us about green shorts on the first day of school and I imagined my chances of going to the moon were just as good as my earning them. Sure enough, for a year my efforts landed shy of “green short” status, although I was morphing from a soft dumpling boy into a semi-dumpling.
During my senior year, I signed up for PE again, just to earn those damned shorts. For five grading periods, five tests, I kept my grade at an A, but couldn’t quite reach the trophy standard for sit-ups and chin-ups.
Finally, I had one last six-week test to reach the green short standard. If I was going to join the elite, and wear shorts of honor in class, they had to be earned during the next test.
With determination, I managed to top out on all the tests but the chin-ups, and they were last. I had never done 20 of them without dropping off the bar. On that test day I did 18.
I had done the math many times, so I knew I had earned a 97.5 and had missed the mark again. I was in the locker room pulling off my gym clothes when Coach called me. I went, dejected, until he handed me a pair of green shorts. “Glad you made it, Mac.”
I smiled as I clutched the green prize, yet I know my eyes still said, “Nah, Coach, I missed it by one chin-up.”
I wish this story had ended there, but sure enough, a few minutes later, Coach came over to my locker, and contritely said, “Sorry, Phil, I was wrong. You needed one more chin-up,” as he held out his hand for the green shorts.
I wore white gym shorts in PE the rest of the year. The sky didn’t fall, and no one called the principal to complain that the teacher’s mistake shouldn’t have been corrected at my expense. No one suggested I be given another test. No one suggested that Coach fudge the grade to protect my self-esteem.
I’ve never forgotten that I missed the mark on my last shot at the green shorts, but I also know I was treated fairly, and I know that I had not done all I could to prepare for the last test. I hadn’t coasted, but I hadn’t done extra chins every day either.
Over the years, as a career educator, I’ve had occasion to talk to many teachers about what qualities are shared by the best teachers. I never hesitated to identify my PE teacher as the best I had. My choice often irritated “academic” folks, until I told them the story of the green shorts. While that personal tale of my near-miss would simply garner sympathy from some, others “got it.”
They got that Coach had done a lot of things right. Coach had laid out his learning expectations on the first day of class. Coach had clearly and concisely told us how we were going to be tested and graded on the curriculum. Coach spent a substantial portion of every class period preparing us for the test. Coach enriched the curriculum with games and sports, but always focused on his primary goal of developing our personal fitness.
Coach didn’t inflate grades or give easy “extra credit” assignments. Finally, perhaps most importantly, Coach was honest with me, admitted his math error, and didn’t let me walk away with a coveted prize “almost” earned
In August of 1997, thirty years after I missed the green shorts, my neighbor convinced me to go to the new gym in town and try weight lifting with him, I’m still going. Yes, there is a chinning bar in Mike’s gym. It doesn’t haunt me or tempt me. Too much.