By Tim Hayes

The secret of life comes in discovering your limitations.  Once you get those guardrails in place – as long as you respect them – things generally become easier, smoother, even less painful.

And trust me, I know from whence I speak.

In what could only be described as a well-intentioned, but ill-fated, attempt at increasing the physical fitness of students at our little parochial elementary school – begun at the insistence of one of the younger nuns, still carrying the torch for the fallen President Kennedy, I would guess – everybody in our sixth-grade class was to get hauled down to the school gym once a week for about a month’s trial run.

While the chance to get out of our usual “business casual” wardrobes and into t-shirts, gym shorts, and tennis shoes came as a rare treat during the school day, the very thought of trying to keep up with the natural jocks sent a chill down the spines of my friends and myself.  We were used to goofing around at the neighborhood park, playing pick-up games where we displayed uniformly bad skills and the rules somehow didn’t count.

Now, in front of everybody in our grade – including the girls – the countdown to soul-crushing, image-shattering, self-worth-pulverizing exposure as clumsy louts on the basketball court had begun.

Sister James Ann picked two captains – the star players, naturally – and they proceeded to select their squads.  With each name called that wasn’t mine, I could feel the embarrassment building.  At least I got shuffled into one of the teams before the very last kid had been chosen.

Clearly second-string material, I rode the bench for most of the class.  But good citizenship and sportsmanship (if not necessarily smart coaching) dictated that everybody get a chance to play.

So, at last, the inevitable arrived and I got waved into the game.  But a secret strategic plan, known only to me, soon hatched.  I had to walk a tightrope, carefully balancing two diametrically opposing ideas, to survive this accursed gym class with my honor intact.  My plan, boiled to its essence, could be summarized as follows:

Get close enough to the action to make it look like I’m willing to get involved, but simultaneously remain far enough away that actually passing the ball to me would be just insane and completely out of the question.

Miraculously, the plan held together for most of my time on the floor.  Notice I said most of my time.

The other team’s guys had taken the ball down the court and were about to shoot.  I ran aimlessly around the general perimeter of the action, staying as close to mid-court as possible.  Assuming the other team had taken a shot and made it, I started running full-tilt to the other end of the court.  And that’s when it happened.

Huffing my way down the sideline, trying to gauge where I could continue my “involved-yet-avoiding-play” master plan, I heard my classmates – including the girls, watching from the rickety old bleachers in that ancient gym – shouting my name, over and over.

“Tim!” Hey, I must be really making an impression here…

“Tim!!!” Wow, this strategy has everybody fooled…

“TIM, TURN AROUND!!!” What?  Turn around?  Why?

I had assumed incorrectly.  The other team never did get a shot off.  Somebody on my team stole the ball, saw me running, all alone, toward our basket, and launched the ball the length of the court from the far baseline – and I mean a rocket throw, and right on the money.

“The money,” of course, being my face, as I turned around and saw the spinning orange sphere – Wilson…Wilson…Wilson – about six inches from my nose, coming in hot, like a lunar module violently re-entering the atmosphere.

It hit me square on the kisser, my glasses sent flying, the rest of me bouncing and somersaulting down the court, legs and arms akimbo, like Evel Knievel hitting the ramp after a motorcycle jump gone desperately awry.

No one ever told us why, but gym class suddenly got canceled.  My theory?  Simple economics.  Father, up at the rectory, didn’t need any liability lawsuits emanating from an experimental sixth-grade gym class.  Sorry, JFK.  Smart guy, that Father.  He knew his limitations, too.

Copyright 2015 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting