In my middle and high schools we were always required to take a gym class. I was never especially athletic then, but I never really had a problem with it either, I suppose. It was just something we did. In the later years of high school, all the regular P.E. (that is, physical education) classes were scheduled in the same periods opposite band and choir. So if you were in band, you took P.E. during the choir period (5th), and if you were in choir, you took P.E. during the band period (1st). If you were in neither, I suppose you had your choice. But if you were in both, as I of course was, as well as most of my friends, you got put in to a special session of gym class which was called “Music P.E.”. Since it was exclusively filled with band and choir geeks, you can imagine about how that went. Even the gym teachers, not a group well known for their laid-back attitudes, could muster any enthusiasm for this class, much less the students. Nobody cared. Ninety percent of the class was taken up by one of these three things: tennis (warm months), Bowling (cold months), or just plain study hall. The good news for me and my fellow band-choir friends was that while none of us were what you would call exemplary physical specimens, relatively speaking we were above average or better athletically in this group. We were pretty competitive at tennis and bowling, anyway. When we weren’t trying to hit tennis balls over the fence in to the pool, or lobbing eight-pound balls down the lane so that they didn’t actually touch the ground until they were halfway to the pins. All to the resounding apathy of our gym teachers who were clearly taking this period to be their break.
Anyway, there were theoretically some rules that applied to gym classes; e.g. you were supposed to wear a certain uniform, consisting of appropriate athletic shoes, gym shorts, and a school-issue T-shirt that you had to buy. The logic behind this was apparent other than just trying to foster general uniformity; when teenagers, who already stink of sweat and tightly-wound sexuality, spend an hour in the middle of their day running in circles playing games completely fabricated for the purpose of high-school gym (can anyone out there confirm the existence of a sport named “Sacket” outside my high school P.E. class?) you want them to be at least wearing a different shirt than they do the rest of the day so they don’t make chemistry class in the afternoon even less bearable from the B.O. Wait, I hear someone saying, why didn’t you just take a shower after gym? Because, my good and logical friend, there wasn’t possibly enough time to do so. They gave us like five minutes before and after P.E. to change and get to and from our surrounding classes, and with the gym on the far end of the school building, it wasn’t physically possible. Never in my six total years of attending that school building for combined middle school and high school—never—did I ever see or even hear of anyone actually taking a shower after gym. The showers existed, I believe, but I have absolutely no memory of them because they were never used. Granted, I don’t think most of us would have used them even if they gave us the time to do so, because the specter of standing naked and therefore completely vulnerable in a communal shower in high school—much less middle school, when you were already as ashamed of your body as possible while fully clothed—would have been pretty much unthinkable, and tantamount to an invitation to sexual traumatization. Other than prison, I think high school would be about the least comfortable place to take a shower.
I’m getting off topic. So the rules for changing for gym class existed on paper, but in practice, as I’ve said, our teachers couldn’t be bothered to care, so mostly we just wore whatever. Sometimes if they were already pissed off at someone for being a douchebag in an earlier class (Douchebags? In high school gym classes? Shocking!) they would get militant and start enforcing the letter of the law. But in most cases they didn’t care, and as long as you had a different shirt, really any shirt, as long as it didn’t have profanity or advertise alcohol, you were OK (although our gym teachers could wear shirts that openly promoted religion, which I always had a problem with inherently but never was stupid enough to actually make into a thing). But technically you were supposed to only wear the school-issue shirt. Which is kind of going against the spirit of the thing, because with two or three P.E. classes per week, there is no way those things were getting washed as often as they should have, if they got washed at all, and so they were likely just compounding the problem, and not helping it, but whatever.
So this shirt is not my official high school P.E. shirt. This was AN official high school P.E. shirt, but it was not MY official high school P.E. shirt. Mine will be coming up later in this project. This one is one that was not available as an option when I originally got my official P.E. shirt back in seventh grade. But somewhere along the line, someone left it in the locker room or something and I ended up with it. As you can see, it is designed and drawn by a student who was at the time quite well known for his drawings of this style.
Let’s first acknowledge that the design of the “panther” (our school mascot, natch) is a blatant rip-off of Chester Cheetah of Cheetos fame. Chester had only recently become a popular spokes-cartoon at that time, I believe, and so the influence is obvious. The panther is sporting (see what I did there) a red tank-top that says “Physical Fitness #” and weirdly bulgy pants, which I am not sure if are supposed to be bulgy because they are, like, football pants, and therefore filled with pads, or just panther-Chester’s unique beefy musculature, despite his tiny, tiny waist. He is holding a baseball bat (not to be confused with a Sacket bat as that is flat and notched at the end) and a tennis racket, and at his feet are lots of various balls (insert your own testicle joke here), although not one for bowling that I can see. The most baffling characteristic of our mascot here is that he appears to be wearing a pirate-like eye patch on his one visible eye. I do not know if that is in fact what it is intended to be, and if so, why; perhaps to make him look tough? Perhaps because some sport caused him to get his eye poked out? Perhaps because he has a lazy eye? Perhaps it is because Chester Cheetah is always wearing sunglasses, and this was our student artists’ fair-use inspired take on how to make it his own while not significantly departing from the model outset?
Anyway, it says “Monticello Physical Education” or actually “MoNticeLLo PhySicAL EdUcAtion” in balloon red lettering with a drop shadow. And the shirt itself is gray. And that’s about it. I do not own a red tank top that says “Physical Fitness #” on it, but I wish I did. Ideally in a technical fabric so I could wear it running.