A friend of mine is a teaching assistant, and when he casually mentioned that he’d been helping out at his annual school Sports Day I was thrown back into a whirlpool of horrendous memories that I thought I had successfully escaped.
I am not an especially athletic adult, although I am physically active and go to the gym several times a week – mostly to throw around enormous weights, because that harp ain’t ever going to learn to lift itself. And at university I was a regular fixture in the womens’ first rowing VIII and the rugby team, despite my chronic asthma and even more chronic thunder-thighs. But I was certainly never an athletic child – rather, I was a complete nerd who spent the few hours she wasn’t doing her homework practising three instruments and hiding from bullies.
I don’t know if it has changed now but when I were a lass, sports day was a compulsory exercise (pardon the pun) – it was obligatory to enter in at least one event, embarrassing yourself in front of the entire school at some event randomly chosen for you by the sadistic PE teacher under threat of endless detention, clad only in horrendous (and indecently small) navy gym knickers and an ill-fitting aertex shirt because your mother was too cheap to buy you a new one this year despite the rather obvious onset of puberty…or was that just me?
Obviously, the whole fiasco ended with the naturally sporty kids standing smugly on a podium being showered with prizes and glory, and the non-sporty ones being utterly humiliated, as usual.
But tell me this – where was the obligatory competition in other skills? Where was the obligatory Music Day, where even the cloth-eared and tone deaf were forced to play an instrument (not necessarily of their choosing) in front of all their peers, despite their obvious lack of talent? Where was the compulsory science fair or maths olympiad? What about Pottery Day, Competitive Cooking or Do-It-Or-Get-A-Detention Drama Day?
It always seemed profoundly unfair to me to put people through an obligatory assortment of track and field events, regardless of actual talent or interest in those activities. It was never an option to compete in swimming, table tennis, trampolining, bowling or weight-lifting, to name a few – at least on a compulsory, school-wide basis. And there certainly weren’t any obligatory non-sporting competitions (unless you count exams…) Still, at least Sports Day wasn’t as bad as the living hell that was the annual compulsory cross-country run at my primary school. One year I nearly set fire to my trainers to get out of it.
What do you think? Does the mere mention of the words Sports Day bring you out in a mysterious rash requiring a note from your Mum? Or were you one of those annoyingly smug sporty types who won everything and then beat up the fat kids in the showers?