I experienced another milestone a few weeks ago when I was selected for the teachers’ team to play in a charity game of DodgeBall against students, in front of an audience of students. (I’d love to give the impression that this was a stadium invitation, but the reality was a packed spectators gallery in the old sports hall). I hadn’t a clue what DodgeBall was at this stage but was elated to be selected for a sports team for the first time in my life. Naturally I accepted.
I then research the game and discover it entails throwing balls at the opposing team while dodging their attempts to strike you in return. In a lightbulb moment I realise that I have been chosen by the student opponents not because of my athletic prowess and dexterity with a ball but because of my large body mass and my inability to throw. They want me on the opposing side. Further research shows that the subtitle of the 2004 box office hit ‘Dodge Ball’ film is, ‘A True Underdog Story’. I’m so desperate not to turn down my first ever team selection that I decide to focus on this and hope that it is kismet that I will lead my colleagues to victory in the name of charity.
I withdraw from public life for a week and watch the 2004 film on loop and purchase a brightly coloured sweat band.
There is some context to my lack of team selection (lack if you ignore participation in the poorly advertised 1975 church youth club Beetle Drive when I was recruited at the last minute out of desperation). I blame my team absence mostly on sports kit.
Even from the early days of Music and Movement at infant school, although I enjoyed Mrs Merridance’s piano playing well enough, I was unlikely to feel free-flowing and artistic when forced to prance around the dining hall in vest, pants and some flapping black plimsolls. The boys were at least allowed to wear their shorts.
When I progressed to Secondary School, my fate was signed as soon as we were introduced to the school uniform list at the approved outfitters. I was in the first year of students to join a brand new secondary school – so new in fact that the school was built around us for the next 5 years as younger students joined in the years below. I should have taken it as a sign when we were told in our first PE lesson that there were no official changing rooms, just some borrowed beach huts from the local town – windowless, damp and smelling of dog pee, but at least holding no threat of a communal shower area. I digress, it was the uniform that was determined to trip us up at every hurdle, at least the beach huts gave us somewhere to hide.
As head of a brand new school, the Head Teacher had the opportunity to ensure that females had a uniform that would allow them to adjust to their changing form as discretely as possible. He must have hated girls, for instead he chose a nylon skirt with an elasticated waist that was roomy but also a gift for any clown who decided to whip down the skirt of any girl waiting in the lunch queue, leaving her standing in just knicks and embarrassment. (I was often that girl).
As if this wasn’t enough, the Head then chose minuscule, nylon, elasticated shorts and a bright yellow Airtex top for the girls’ sports kit. Neon non-wicking nylon just as we started growing, sweating and discovering boys. So, just as team sports were introduced for the first time, I was distracted by trying to cover my yards of mottled purple thigh (PE lessons are usually cold) before lycra, skorts or hoodies had even been invented. I was unlikely to show my prowess in dribbling a hockey ball across a pitch or goal shooting in netball with one hand anxiously pulling my shorts down to cover my growing embarrassment. In the summer, I avoided track events for fear of my nylon shorts disappearing up my gluteus maximus (emphasis on maximus) in front of my peers.
I was never chosen for a sports team. End of.
Back to DodgeBall though and all is well. I’m in the team, I’m wearing lycra, and although I’m targeted and first out each round because of my pathetic throwing and contagious giggling, we win. Best of all, for the first time in my life I experience the line- up at the end of a match when the players pass each other shaking hands. Even better to hear the students congratulating the teachers on OUR victory (that won’t happen again). The students make a short film of the event. I pay them handsomely (for charity of course) to delete one offending photo of me shouting at the ref but I ask them to keep in the handshaking at the end. I really like that bit.
I think I might like team sport. I’m not likely to make the DodgeBall cut next year now that the teachers have seen me play, but I’m thinking of ‘trying out’ for cheerleading. I think their skirts are a bit short, but I might make my own – very large – neon nylon pom poms to cover any embarrassment.