Childhood days in the old Glenwood Elementary Gym
In early May, I got to spend a few days filling in for Crystal Garrison, who is the physical education teacher at Glenwood Elementary School.
Whenever I go into the gymnasium at GSES, I look around and think about how vastly different the place looked when I was a student in the late 1960s as compared to now. People and places always change over time, especially when the passing of over 40 years is involved, but the complete makeover of the gym that once resembled a cross between an ancient cathedral and a gothic theater, never made much sense to me, nor could I accept the tradition that was abruptly swept away with the remodeling that took place in the early 1980s.
When a class of fourth-grade children in one of Garrison’s morning classes filed through the doors and sat quietly in a circle near the center of the gym, I noticed they all had little journal-sized notebooks with them that they used to write “reflections” of the current events and happenings in their lives during the first few minutes of PE class. They asked me if I had any “reflections” of my own, and I answered with an emphatic, “Yes!” I then began to tell the kids about how the gym looked when I was a little boy in Bob Chavez’s PE class at Glenwood Elementary.
I started my reflection, if you will, with the large, fan-shaped windows that adorned both sides of the gym. There were three on each side, and those colossal sun gatherers must have been 15 feet in length and at least 5 feet wide. Coach Chavez had to use a long pole on warm days to open them at the top, and most of the time, there was no need for lights in the gym with all of the sunshine that poured in.
I told the kids about the old balcony with the wooden seats, and what an honor and privilege it was to finally reach sixth grade and get to sit perched high above the rest of the school during plays and assemblies. What I didn’t tell them was what great fun it was to toss spitwads at the unsuspecting and vulnerable underlings that sat unprotected beneath my feet.
My rapt audience of 10-year-olds didn’t seem to mind in the least bit that I was squandering away some of their play time, so I continued.
The large stage at the west end of the gymnasium was my next topic. During countless class plays, which I dreaded, since I have never been inclined to acting, I stood before the entire student body with voice cracking and knees shaking to deliver my rehearsed lines in hurried fashion, so I could get away from all the searing eyes and tuck away behind the curtains as quickly as possible.
The youngsters grew a smile as big as an August sunflower and got a hearty chuckle out of that one.
I concluded my reflection by walking to the very center of the gym and slapping the floor as I sat down. There were quizzical looks and arched eyebrows from my audience as I started into my description of the beautiful wooden floor that I played so many games on years ago, and right in the middle of it all was a Little Demon painted in the basketball center jump circle.
All the schools in Glenwood, other than the high school, now have different mascots. There are Cougars, Grizzlies and Eagles. I grew up being a Little Demon at Glenwood Elementary and Glenwood Junior High School. As the kids were soaking in my words, I told them I took pride in being a Little Demon, just as they did today, in 2015, in being GSES Grizzlies.
I sensed that the kids were ready to get up and get moving, and so was I.
As they ran around and frolicked during their free play time, some of the kids would take a quick break and wander over to me, asking various questions pertaining to whether something in the gym was there when I was a boy. One little girl came to me with the best question of the day when she asked with a curious but sincere look on her face, “Were you really 10 years old?” I answered the only way I knew how, “Yep, 44 years ago.”
The Little Grizzlies continued to play as time on their PE period was winding down. Being constantly aware of trying to avoid flying dodgeballs, I looked up to a spot where the balcony once was and thought of a disabled, middle-aged man known only to me as Rodney, who was the custodian at GSES many years ago.
During our high school days, myself, Rick Eccher, Kevin Flohr, Rick Chavez, Bobby Barrows, Greg Piper, Wes Pollock, Tyler McClain and several other GSHS basketball junkies would rent the Glenwood Elementary gym two nights a week in the autumn during our junior and senior years to play basketball and prepare for the upcoming season.
Each night, Rodney the janitor would gingerly walk the steps to the balcony and sit and watch us play, often applauding when Flohr would dunk at the end of a fast break, or Eccher would swish one of his long range bombs. One evening, during a break in the action, I walked up to the balcony to chat with Rodney for a bit. After the initial greetings were finished and the trivial conversation came to a close, I asked Rodney what had happened that caused his noticeable limp and left him with the full use of only one arm.
I knew right away that I should have kept my question an unspoken thought as I saw Rodney’s always friendly face turn suddenly wintry.
“Vietnam.” Rodney’s eyes would not meet mine after his reply. He just stared off into the distance, presumably at past memories that would, unfortunately, be his unwanted companion forever.
Not many trips to the GSES gym go by without me remembering some of the nooks and crannies in the cavernous structure where we used to play hide-and-go-seek, or where Mr. Chavez used to teach us square dancing as sixth-graders. I found square dancing tolerable only because I usually got to hold hands with either Kim Richardson, Theresa Zelenka or Susan Turner, the three hottest girls at GSES at the time.
Someday, I should share my memories of the old gym with the wonderful PE lady Ms. Garrison, or maybe she will just read this column.
Either way, I think I deserve an “A” in my reflection journal.
Mike Vidakovich is a freelance writer from Glenwood Springs. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.
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