“Hey, you got your jock on?” I asked my grandson Gavin as he jogged up to me at his track practice.
“Jockstrap,” I specified.
He looked at me blankly.
“Athletic supporter,” I said, taking the more formal approach.
That same blank look. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
I had figured as much. I’m not sure why I asked him that. As a volunteer coach for his middle school track team, I guess I had been temporarily transported back to my track days as a spindly sprinter … turned into a lousy long jumper … turned into a dedicated but hardly dazzling distance runner. And I always was sporting a jockstrap during those days whether I needed it or not.
I guess it started when I was a fifth-grader at Maple Crest Elementary School in Kokomo and I was going to run the third leg of the 750-yard relay in the city meet. (Kokomo High had a weird 375-yard track so it would fit above the Wildcat Creek.)
“Hey, Moor, you got a jockstrap?” one of the sixth-graders said to me. “Mr. Sheets (our coach) won’t let you run if you don’t have one. And he’ll check to make sure you’re wearing one. It’s the rules.”
He was talking a foreign language to me, but I just gave him a nod before he pulled back his gym shorts to show me his. Yikes! I barely weighed 60 pounds and was so scrawny, I needed extra holes in my belt to buckle it and hold up my pants. Let’s just say I was pretty little all over back then.
I hated wearing shorts in those days because of how skinny my legs were and now I was going to have to wear one of those things, too?
“Dad, I need a jockstrap for track,” I said to him that night.
He smiled. “You think it will make you run faster?” he replied.
I told him I didn’t know, but that I wasn’t going to be able to run at all without one.
We went out and bought one — the smallest one that Sanburn’s Sporting Goods had to offer. It was one of the weirdest things I’d ever seen. But I eventually figured out how to wear it and ran the city meet with it on.
Puberty was still a few years away for me but the jock made me feel like I was on my way to being one of the big boys. Then I watched the shot put competition and the huge kid who won it tossed the 8-pound ball an astonishing 38 feet.
And even more astonishing to me was that he already had armpit hair. I guess the only thing we had in common as athletes — and in development — were that we both were wearing jocks (I can only assume he also had one on).
Of course, jockstraps were required in gym class at Elwood Haynes Junior High, too. Mr. Rammel, our phys ed teacher, would sometimes pull on the back of a pair of gym shorts to make sure someone was wearing one. You were in the bleachers for the rest of the period and with an X in his grade book if you didn’t have one on.
My jock — who ever called it an athletic supporter back then? — saved me from dying of embarrassment one time. Again, it was another relay and again, I was the third man on an 880-yard relay. It was bitter cold that April afternoon and I kept my sweat pants on until the last possible moment.
You probably know where this is going. When I did jerk down my pants as the second runner on our team took the handoff across the track from me, my gym pants came with them. Fortunately, the jock held so I didn’t expose too much to those around me. It was still pretty traumatic, though.
My jock accompanied me into high school locker rooms and then we pretty much parted ways. I guess that happened to a lot of guys of my era. Jocks seemed a generational thing. I don’t think my boys ever wore them and my grandson has never heard of them.
Compression pants or a tight pair of tightie whities must do the job now — unless a kid plays a sport that needs something to hold a cup.
I look at my speedy grandson. I look around the track. It makes me think back to the days when I wore track shorts (along with a jock) and I break into a smile.
And then I think about a bad case of jock itch felt like and decide it’s time to get off memory lane and back on track.