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    Students complete the warm-up sequence during Physical Education. These students were my sophomore classmates for a semester. Everyone pictured here is “suited up,” an unusual occurrence. A few are even smiling. Photo: Emily Hwang.

    “You look a little sweaty,” my friend remarks, to my dismay.

    It’s lunch after third period, and I am glistening with the post-PE shine. Indeed, I had forgotten about this, and about a lot of other aspects of life as a PE student. I’d forgotten the feeling of my polyester PE shorts riding up on my waist as I ran the compulsory two warm-up laps on the track. I’d forgotten the atmosphere of a high school locker room and the dread I’d feel when my PE teacher announced we had a mile run coming up. Along with the things I’d forgotten, there were new strategies to getting through a semester with sophomore classmates that I had yet to learn.

    Physical Education at Palo Alto High School is required for four semesters. Typically, students enroll in PE during their freshman and sophomore years. I, however, injured my knee in the second semester of my sophomore year, and decided to fulfill the remainder of my PE requirement first semester of my senior year. According to PE teacher Jacob Halas, there are about two or three seniors per year taking PE, usually due to injury or failure of the class.

    I was one of those seniors, and these are phases of my journey as a student in Halas’ third period PE class.

    Phase One: I hate fitness testing, my life is a joke

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    Sophomore PE students perform the push-up test. Unfortunately, the photo does not show the electronic push-up counting contraptions that never fail to elicit grievances from students. Photo: Emily Hwang.

    I had a number of gripes, right off the bat. The temporary locker room situation meant a smaller number of lockers in the locker room and that I couldn’t keep my clothes and shoes there between classes. The gray PE shirt and green shorts combo was an outfit I was not proud (read: humiliated) to don, especially when I ran into fellow seniors on my walk from the locker room to the track. When people asked what my next class would be, my reply of “PE” always received a hearty chuckle, a sympathetic “I’m sorry” and a question: “Why?”.

    The first few weeks as a senior in PE consisted of fitness testing, during which each day brought another form of cruelty. There were both the old favorites, like the mile and push-ups, and new inventions of the PE Department such as the Viking and Figure 8 runs. Thankfully, after fitness testing ended I got my fall sport prep.

    Phase Two: I have no friends in this class, but do I want to be friends with sophomores anyway? 

    The golf team’s failure to advance past the NorCal stage of postseason not only resulted in the end of my high school golf career, it meant that I would have to go back to PE. There was another senior in my class at the beginning of the semester, but soon enough she desperately sought out (and succeeded in finding) an alternative to her PE requirement. I was forced to face the daunting sea of underclassmen on my own.

    Honestly, I did very little to be sociable in that class, and so I did more listening to the sophomores than talking.  The worst was when they mentioned college. I was drowning in college applications and these toddlers had the audacity to complain about not knowing which school to apply to early? In fact, it seemed like sophomores moaned and groaned about every single thing we did in that class, especially when they didn’t get their preps as fast as they wanted to. They reeked of immaturity and even worse, reminded me of what my life was like two years ago. Though I must admit, Algebra 2 and Chemistry stressed me out too.

    In addition, I regularly saw them outside of class, painful reminders of my PE life. You know Arts in Unusual Places? It was like that, except replace the art with sophomores, and the unusual part was recognizing underclassmen in unusual places. (Note: my attitude about this has changed. See next phase.)

    Phase Three: Actually, sophomores aren’t that bad I guess

    A few instances of kindness from sophomores stick out in my mind when I think of my time in PE. First, when I returned to class after golf season, a particularly nice sophomore introduced herself to me when she noticed my unfamiliar presence. It felt good to be welcomed with a smile.

    On a separate occasion, as I was kicking around the weird rubber pellets of the lacrosse field turf waiting for the PE teachers to show up, a couple of girls signaled me to approach them. I was confused at first. I glanced around. Me? Are they gesturing at me? Seeing as there was no one else in my immediate vicinity, I concluded that there was no other possibility. We started conversing and I revealed my plight to them. In general, I think most of the sophomores had sympathy for me when they realized I was a senior. I was like a poor, misunderstood alien creature trying to navigate a new world and they were the altruistic humans attempting to help me adjust.

    Plus, the evasive tactics my classmates used in PE were entertaining. One girl in my class hid in the bathroom almost every time we had to run. Another group of students started walking their warm-up laps before the PE teachers got to the track, so that they would have less distance to run once the teachers did show up. Ingenius.

    Phase Four: Hey, PE can be pretty fun and I Am A Champion

    If nothing else, one tangible accomplishment did come out of this: I am proudly a member of the winning team of the 3rd period sophomore PE softball tournament. Yes, I know you’re jealous. The other (losing) sophomores were, because our team got to sit out of an extensive bleacher run the next day. I sat and watched as panting sophomores trudged past me, and I couldn’t help but revel in the sweet, sweet victory.

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    PE teacher Jacob Halas observes his students playing lacrosse. None of us really got the cradling technique down in such a short period of time. Photo: Emily Hwang.

    Often, we would warm up and then play a sport for the rest of the period, which I found greatly enjoyable. We tackled lacrosse, a sport most of us had never played before. As a whole, our skills were wonderfully, hilariously mediocre. In a lot of ways, PE made me feel like a kid again. It’s difficult to organize a large group of people with the equipment necessary to play sports and games. In PE, I had the opportunity to do that every other day, which I was surprisingly grateful for.

    Over time, I recognized that participating in PE as a senior was not significantly different from being a sophomore in PE. I had a chat with PE teacher Jason Fung about this, and he reflected on the attitude of PE students and the goals of teachers in this unique subject. It’s really just a state of mind, according to Fung. Athletes will come into PE with the mindset of wanting to succeed. I didn’t really care about being the best at PE, but I did attempt to be optimistic about it.

    Phase Five: Bye, PE! Advice from me to you, underclassmen

    As finals week rolled around, so did my official last week of high school PE. Granted, I hesitate to say that I miss PE, though it did force me to reflect on the growth I’ve experienced in the past two years of my life. It’s incredible how much you can learn in two years, really. So, as a senior and participant in PE for eight-ish weeks, I feel validated in telling underclassmen a few things.

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    PE teacher Jacob Halas flashes a thumbs-up at his students during their warm-up. Fun fact: Halas temporarily lost my prep contract at the start of the semester and I was irate. It’s okay, he found it later and never wronged me again. Photo: Emily Hwang.

    Dear freshmen and sophomores, please remember that the PE teachers really aren’t trying to torture you. According to Fung, all they want to do is give you the tools to live a healthier life and teach you to value fitness. Those seem like noble goals to me. Yeah, running isn’t the best, but think of PE as a much-needed break from your normal schoolwork, a chance to get some fresh air and socialize with your peers. PE isn’t worth having a bad attitude about. You’ll never have any fun if you focus on how much better life would be if you had a prep.

    Thank you, to the sophomores who showed me compassion and played sports with me, and to my merciful PE teachers. PE wasn’t all that bad.

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