Garret Mathews

The Single Most Feared Experience from Our High-School Years: The Rope!

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I spoke to a high school class the other day. Later, some students took me on a tour of the building that ended in the gymnasium.

After several minutes of looking around the hardwood, I gave up. “OK, where is it?” I asked.

The kids asked me to be more specific.

“Just the bane of my existence when I was in PE, that’s all,” I replied. “The thing I feared more than nuclear war.”

They didn’t follow.

“The rope, people. The rope.”

One boy said he hadn’t skipped rope since third grade.

“Not jumping,” I explained. “Climbing.”

More blank stares.   Then it hit me. There is no rope.

“This is unfair to the core,” I huffed. “Back in the day, we were mortified. It’s only right for you to be mortified.”

Knotted at the bottom, the rope dangled from the top girder of the gymnasium. The PE teacher said it was only 40 feet, but it was at least a mile.

Immediately, I pledged my unceasing efforts to bring back the rope. If the school system doesn’t have the money, it can always cut out third period.

Then I took their questions.

Uh, dude, what if you couldn’t make it to the top?

The gym teacher, always eager to bring another weakling out of the closet, would have the news spread all over school by lunch. Kids you didn’t even know would ask if you needed help lifting your peas.

What were the consequences of falling?

You mean in addition to the massive head trauma?


You could forget about ever being popular.

Was everybody afraid of the rope?

Just those of us who had the muscle mass of cheese curds. When the gym teacher called our names, it was like dead boys walking.

You’re just kidding about reinstating the rope climb at high schools, right?

Wrong, dude. I even have an Olympic-like slogan for you: Go for the girder.

Do you have any advice?

The knot will be soaked with sweat from the inner thighs of previous climbers. That alone should provide the needed motivation to launch your ascent.

How did you celebrate on those rare occasions when you made it to the top?

Lifted everybody’s peas at lunch.

Editor’s Notes:  Garret Mathews, an AFL “regular” tells us:   I’m retired from writing the metro column for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. In a 39-year career, I penned more than 6,500 pieces on every subject from moonshiners to murderers. You can read some of my work by going to and clicking on the Favorites icon.  For information on other projects, click on Coming Together and FolksAreTalking on the Plugger site.” Also, go to, and, for even MORE great articles from Garret, click here!  Email Garret at He’d love to hear from you!

Garret Mathews is retired from writing the metro column for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. He penned more than 6,500 pieces on every subject from moonshiners to murderers and Appalachian snake handlers to mail-order brides. His legacy website ( contains links to columns – his (“Favorites”) and those mostly written by others (“Columnists: While We’re Still Around”). At “Coming Together,” you can access interviews Mathews conducted with civil rights volunteers who went South in the ‘60s to register voters and desegregate schools and businesses. At “Folks Are Talking,” you can read several dozen feature stories and columns (early United Mine Workers organizers, early coal hand loaders and a female furrier who dissected muskrats while eating peanut butter sandwiches) that Mathews wrote during the ‘70s when he worked in Southern West Virginia. He and his wife MaryAnne moved to Carmel in 2013 to dote on their grandchildren, Gavin and Ben.

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