On a couple of occasions recently, in the line of duty for ADCO, I have found myself out on the court at USC basketball games. A nonprofit client of ours has been blessed with donations that it has received in the form of oversized checks presented in front of the fans at Colonial Life Arena. (The client is the SC Center for Fathers and Families; the generous donors are TD Bank and Colonial Life.) I was there to help publicize the donations.
There are a lot of things a person might think as he steps out in front of a crowd like that, some relevant, some not: Do I have a good angle for the picture? Is my focus good enough to read the check? Cheerleaders are cute, but they wear a lot of makeup. Is it hard to smile that much? They’re also smaller than they look from the stands. The players are not. Am I standing in anyone’s way? Is my fly zipped? Who that I know is seeing me down here and wonders what I’m doing?
But the one predominant thought I had on both occasions was, I’m standing on the gym floor in my street shoes! This made me very self-conscious. I felt guilty, furtive, a scofflaw who was going to get yelled at by coach any second. (And in my day, coaches yelled what they pleased at us with impunity.)
Young people, and even some not-so-young-anymore people, are wondering what on Earth I’m on about. But when I was a student at Karr Junior High School in the suburbs of New Orleans in the mid-60s, it was deeply impressed on us that you never, ever walked on the shiny gym floor with street shoes on.
Perhaps I should explain what “street shoes” are. They are dress shoes, made of hard, polished leather. Like what your Daddy wore to work at the office, if your Daddy was old enough to go to the office back when men wore suits and hats. If he wasn’t, then your granddaddy.
We did not wear sneakers, athletic shoes, or whatever you want to call them to school. Or zoris, either (on the Mainland, y’all call them “flip-flops”). Nor did we wear jeans, or shorts, or T-shirts. We dressed in a manner that today is called “business casual,” only less casual than a lot of business people today.
Except in gym. In gym, we wore gym shoes. And shorts, and T-shirts. That’s how you knew you were in P.E. — you wore things that would be strictly verboten in English class. To participate in P.E. was to “dress out.” If you were sick and had a note from the doctor, you didn’t have to “dress out.” The rest of the time, you did.
And you wore those special shoes in P.E. shoes because you never, ever, for even one step, touched the gym floor with street shoes. Because gym floors were extremely delicate, and taxpayers shelled out gazillions of dollars to keep them perfectly shiny, and your parents couldn’t possibly make enough money to pay for the damage that street shoes could cause. It would be like mixing matter with antimatter, or crossing the streams (Egon!).
Stepping on the gym floor in street shoes was, in 1965, the civilian, junior-high equivalent of being a Marine and calling your rifle a “gun.”
We had dances in the gym in our street clothes on Friday nights, but it wasn’t a problem, because we were all completely conditioned to remove our shoes before stepping onto the gym floor. I have somewhere a Polaroid picture I took once of the pile of shoes under the bleachers. If I can find it, I’ll post it. Today, the kids would just wear casual shoes and clothes. But for social occasions that involved girls, you dressed up.
We spent the rest of the evening in our socks. We did the Jerk, and the Monkey, and the Boogaloo in our socks. We engaged in the delicious mystery of slow-dancing in our socks (we waited and waited for the band to do “House of the Rising Sun,” which was the only slow song they knew). If we were total rebels, with no respect for decency and societal mores, and no teachers were in sight (a rare occurrence), we did the Alligator in our socks.
It was what used to be called a “sock hop,” although I don’t recall our actually calling it that. It’s just that when you danced in the gym, you did so in your socks.
Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about while standing in front of all those basketball fans at Colonial Life Arena. I have no idea who is going to pay for the irreparable damage that my Johnston and Murphys surely did to that floor.
No wonder coach was yelling.
Is that still a thing, what with modern polymer coatings?
Coaches still try to protect their floors–most schools in my district have these enormous rubber mats that cover the floor when there are non-athletic events taking place in their gyms.
Could have been worse. Ever try to get on someone’s boat with street shoes? They hang you from a yardarm for that.
Unrelated note: The Fathers and Families is a great group. I’ve done some pro bono work for fathers through the midlands group. Being a (new) dad myself and a lawyer, it’s a great way to help good guys.
Well, you can slip on a boat deck in street shoes….
Which is why I always try to wear boat shoes, just in case I ever need to come aboard.
but don’t most collegiate and pro basketball coaches wear suits and dress shoes on the bench? They and assistant coaches drift onto the outer portions of the court during timeouts, right? and of course, if enraged over a call, they may walk all the way out onto center court. Of course, that’s a technical foul—maybe it’s to discourage that damage to the floor!
I bet they wear those dress shoes with rubber soles that look like leather
– Yes – and so do the play by play announcers and color commentators – and they are often on the court before and after games- and often even at halftime.
It’s a non issue.
A couple of Hail Marys and an Act of Contrition should absolve you, as it did for most of the sins of my youth. Don’t forget to put a few coins in the poor box on your way out to show your gratitude…
Years ago I asked a student to use the word “adulation” in a sentence. He gave me this: The priest promised the congregation adulation for their sins. Teachable moment.
This morning a young lady told me she went to a school for smart kids in 6th grade, but it didn’t work out.
I still take off my dancing shoes when doing the Gator. They take a real beating otherwise.
See https://sites.google.com/site/gatorpile for an in-depth review of The Alligator.