In the 1950s, before the advent of Title 9 and competitive athletic programs for women, most girls in physical education classes at Spanish Fork Junior High School said no thank you to playing hard and sweating.
Somehow, the rowdy girls of grade school who played all out at recess and howled with joy when they bested boys at running, catching, or scoring, transformed into a giggling gaggle more interested in watching the boys at the other end of the gym than in the exhortations of Miss Erickson, the PE teacher.
I’d like to say I remained true to myself and participated fully and with enjoyment as I had in elementary school, but I didn’t.
I joined the pack.
Decked out in regulation blue rompers that bagged below my knees, I tittered with my friends, running, batting, or dribbling only when necessary and always with decorum.
Then, during my eighth-grade year on a snow-driven day that forced us inside, I executed a trick that enthralled everybody in the gym: boys, girls, teachers, and an incredulous custodian.
The school had purchased a trampoline: an unknown and amazing contraption in our small town. It stood in splendor on the stage as we girls straggled in for roll call and distracted us from the boys goosing each other across the way.
Throughout class, squads of six girls then six boys were sent to the stage to learn basic moves on the new piece of equipment while everyone else continued creating mayhem on the gym floor.
My best friend, Charley, and I were in the first group.
Miss Erickson asked Carol Johnson, a popular girl who defied tradition and excelled at all things athletic, to demonstrate safe jumping and stopping.
I was called next.
I climbed aboard and skittered like a crab across the stretched surface, my face flaming red with embarrassment while Charley moaned, “Oh no, Janet, oh no.”
I began to bounce.
Surprised by the elasticity of the trampoline’s response, I gasped, bent my knees, pushed off with more vigor, flailed my arms, and gained altitude. “Whee!” flew unbidden from my mouth.
I pushed harder, flew higher, and watched the surprised faces circled around the trampoline grow larger as I lit and smaller as I flew to new heights.
Unbelievable. I was having fun in PE.
Motion on the floor froze; the sound of bouncing balls ceased; every eye watched me as I soared. Grinning like a crazed Jack-o-lantern, ponytail lifting aloft on my descents, I finally heard Miss Erickson’s repeated shout: I’d jumped enough. I should execute a stop and get off.
One more bounce: I bounded with all my strength, feeling my power, exulting in my movement, then came down for a stop: I hit straight-legged and off-balance, torpedoed forward — head down bottom up — and sproinged to a stop, my head wedged between two of the springs that connected the mat to the frame.
Miss Erickson blasted her whistle. Mr. Beck came running from the gym floor. Charlie crouched next to my immobile head: “Janet, talk to me. Are you OK? Are you dead? Oh lordy!”
I braced my arms and tried to dislodge my head. I was fine: I could breathe. My neck worked, and my head had moved. I knew I could yank it out, but didn’t. I felt safe upside down. Like an ostrich with its head buried in sand, as long as I was stuck, I could pretend no one was watching.
I don’t remember being shy or hesitant about going first in elementary school. I think I developed my hesitancy to try new things when I climbed onto that trampoline in eighth grade and shut down a new program at Spanish Fork Junior High School until the limits of the school’s liabilities could be ascertained.
I earned two new nicknames that day: Bouncing Bray from some teachers, and Bottoms Up from my friends.
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