Andy McClure’s Phys Ed Class

A rough draft excerpt from my work in progress The Soviet Union and Lincoln County USA.

Jeff decided in the ninth grade to drop out of all organized sports at Duval. I hated to see him quit. I told him it would be good for his self-discipline to continue in sports. One hot summer day he played three hours of basketball at the outdoor court in front of the Volunteer Fire Department and then ran the three miles up Sugar Tree Creek road and sprinted the last hundred yards to our house. Dripping with sweat, he told me what he just did and said, “There is my self-discipline.” It was hard to argue with that. I still wish he had stayed in sports.

The next year, Jeff’s exceptional athleticism won him the physical education award. Andy McClure taught a quality physical education class. He didn’t take the easy way and just throw out a basketball.

Recently, spring of 2012, Jeff reminisced with me by email from Chandler, Arizona, about Mr. McClure’s physical education classes:

As I remember it, Coach McClure used to cover “units” either 1 or 2 weeks in duration. Archery & shooting were both 2 week units. He also spent 1 week each year “training for” and executing the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. What that really meant was you were trying to qualify for it all week and he would just record your best times.

It was also during this week that we would all try to break each other’s records in the events. As a sophomore, I broke a senior’s sit-up record. His record was 73 in a minute. I kept getting close, but couldn’t beat him. Then I got a new idea. We did the sit-ups on a tumbling mat. I piled up three together. Then on my next pass, after one of my elbows touched a knee (Coach’s requirement of a full sit-up), I would thrust myself back down to the mats using my back muscles to throw my head back as fast as I could. That meant I could get started on coming back up on the next sit-up more quickly. With that technique, I did 77 in a minute. A couple people thought that was unfair, but Coach determined it was legal since he couldn’t find any formal rule against it.

When I was a freshman, we did week unit on gymnastics. I had taken formal gymnastics in Charleston in the 6th grade so I did pretty well. When coach was teaching exercises, he always had me demonstrate first. I was already proficient from my earlier training and I used to practice the stuff in the 7th & 8th grades out in the yard just for fun.

When I was a sophomore, the gymnastics unit had expanded to 2 weeks and Coach had bought a big crash pad. That’s like a tumbling mat that is about 18 inches thick. He also bought a mini-tramp (small trampoline). When he pulled this stuff out for the first time, he came up behind me and put his arm around me and quietly said, “I bought this for you.” So, what you do is run to the mini-tramp, jump on it, and do a trick in the air landing on the crash pad. As I’m sure you can imagine, I had a ball.

That sophomore year was a great year between me & Coach McClure. I was already a good shot with a .22, but in that second year, after you bought me my own bow to practice with, he drastically improved my archery. As you may recall, I kept up with archery. I bought a compound bow when I was working in the mines. When I got to WVU, I was deadly accurate. I took an archery class there and was the best shot in the class.

It was also in that sophomore year that Coach McClure gave me the school Phys Ed Award. That made a lot of upperclassmen angry. There were some seniors that were really good athletes. When I was sitting in the bleachers with my friends and Coach was describing the winner of the award, I said to both Randy Wright & Whiteowl, “Shoot, if that’s all he’s basing it on, I ought to get it.” Right then, he called my name. I was shocked.

Here are some of the units I remember: In the winter it was basketball and then volleyball, I loved volleyball week. In the spring we played softball. On rainy days when we couldn’t go outside we played warball, a really cool and complicated form of dodge ball. In the Fall there was flag football. We hated Safety, First Aid and Nutrition but he did it all in the same week. He used to always be coming up with weird games for us to play. They were obviously designed to increase motor skills and coordination of hand/eye and hand/foot. He must have had a book or something. He used these as fillers. I can tell you this– there never was a goof-off day in gym class. He had something for us to do every day.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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1 Response to Andy McClure’s Phys Ed Class

  1. Pingback: Sugar Tree Creek « My Blog

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