I Failed P.E.!

I did!  I really did!   It’s been decades, and I’ve never told another soul outside my immediate family until this very moment.

You’re probably thinking that I was obviously a geek who couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.   But that was not the case at all.

It happened in the first semester of my Sophomore year at college.  Back then my school, a rather prestigious university in the Northeast U.S., required all undergraduate students to take Physical Education in their Freshman and Sophomore years. For that semester scheduling  the courses I wanted or needed to take left me in a position where the only available time I could take P.E. was Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9 AM.  Tuesday and Thursday were not a problem.  Saturday was!

Now I was still a teenager -having  turned 19 late in that semester.  Any of you who can remember your teen years, and all of you who are presently teens, know perfectly well that getting out of the sack every Saturday morning to go to the gym at 9 AM would be a monumental achievement!  Back when I was in High School I doubt I ever even stirred on a Saturday before 1 PM! So, I cut a few Saturday P.E. classes.  Well, actually, I cut more than a few. Out of the 16 or 17 Saturdays in the semester I probably missed about 10. However, I did manage to make all my 11 AM Saturday American History lectures. I surely deserved some credit for that!

The problem was that the P.E. instructor told us the very first day that if we cut more than 6 times we would fail. Naturally, I paid that no mind. Attendance was not an issue in any of the courses I had taken. In fact, most of my professors didn’t even bother taking attendance.

Well, as you can guess, he meant it. There on my semester end grades report was a great big “F” – the first, and only, such black mark of my entire educational experience.  I was devastated. In typical teenage self absorption I saw myself as the victim of a great injustice. Sure, I had exceeded the maximum number of cuts allowed, but I had probably spent more time in the gym and pool than anybody else in the whole university. I was a true “gym rat”. Almost all my free time I spent in the gym; playing basketball, racquetball, handball,  running on  the indoor track or swimming in the pool. Even on  those Saturdays that I cut I would spend 3 or 4 hours in the gym in the afternoon.

I was no great athlete. I was not endowed with  superior quickness or strength. And at 5’9′ and 145 lbs. I was just a little runt. But, I hustled and worked hard at whatever I did. And I loved the physical activity. It was my way of handling the stress and pressures of that stage in my life.

I knew that that letter on my grades report would not be the end of the matter; that there would be some further action to come. And, sure enough, a few days into the second semester I received a note in my mail box at the student union from the Dean of Students  inviting me to meet with him in his office on the afternoon a few days hence.

I can recall that meeting in startling detail as if it had happened yesterday.   At that age I was intimidated by most men in positions of authority. But the huge and impressive office, the purpose of the meeting, and the Dean’s harsh demeanor combined to make me even more intimidated than normal.

He didn’t waste time with amenities. As soon as I was seated in front of his desk he said: “I’ve asked you here today to discuss your grade in Phys. Ed. class. As you are undoubtedly aware, of all the courses offered by this University, Physical Education is the only one in which all one needs to do to pass is to be there – – and you have failed! What do you have to say for yourself?”

I had come to the meeting with my rationalized defense well rehearsed, but I realized at that moment it wasn’t going to fly. So I just “fessed up”. I said that I had no excuse, my cuts were all on Saturdays and I guess I’d just been too lazy to get out of bed in time to make the class.

He made no comment on my confession. Instead he gave me my sentence: “I know it is going to be a great embarrassment to you as a Junior, but next September you’re going to have to repeat the course with lowly Freshmen.”

As he paused for a moment for  that to sink in, I was feeling quite relieved. After all, I knew that was going to happen, and as I’ve stated, I liked going to the gym. I was actually going to miss organized P.E. when it was no longer required. Then he dropped the bomb!

“And, I’m taking your scholarship away for this semester and the next. If you pass Phys. Ed. in both semesters I’ll restore it retroactively. In the meantime you’re going to have to come up with the cash.”

Yikes! Such are the wages of sin! I had several scholarships, but the University scholarship accounted for almost a third of my tuition. I was forced to get a student loan to stay in school.  Well, I’m happy to report that I passed P.E. both semesters and I went on to get my diploma.

Many years have passed but the memory of that embarrassing experience stays with me.

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