Gym class heroes: Behind the scenes

Amelia Feiner, Staff Writer


When she’s not delivering fire rebuttals at debate tournaments or writing powerful articles for a publication that shall not be named (The Review), one can find Alexa Mark (11) eviscerating her classmates in floor hockey, ultimate frisbee, touch football, and countless other activities under the watchful eye of Physical Education Teacher Matthew Russo as a three-season gym student.

Mark’s passion for physical education has been with her from a young age.  “When I was a child I did sports,” she said. “I got a lot of participation trophies.”

However, Russo believes that Mark is a fairly coordinated and athletic student.

“The Horace Mann gym experience has helped me to improve my self confidence in the athletics and see myself as more of an athlete than I ever thought I would be,” Mark said.

For example, Mark scored two touchdowns during her football unit this fall, she said.

“She was very good at flag football,” Russo noted.

“Gym is just my favorite period of the day,” Mark said.  “I love the active nature of gym so much.”

Mark is especially fond of “that game with the kickball” and floor hockey.

Although Mark was forced to take a trimester off of gym to complete her CPR requirements, she is happy to be back and cannot wait for another trimester of physical learning.


“I’d like to say that sports and I have maintained a close and loving friendship over the years,” three trimester gym student Schuyler Rabbin-Birnbaum said. “It’s complicated.”

“He’s just a guy who gives a lot of effort and plays hard in all our games and enjoys his time in PE,”  Russo said.

Rabbin-Birnbaum is a devoted team handball player and loves playing in the PE tournaments. This year, Rabbin-Birnbaum went one for ten with his handball team. “That one victory defined my career at Horace Mann,” he said.

“I don’t think we competed to win, I think we competed to compete,” Russo said about Rabbin-Birnbaum’s results in the tournament.

Birnbaum found it difficult to describe exactly why he loves handball so much. “You feel exhilarated. You’re throwing, you’re tossing, you’re catching, you’re receiving, you’re sharing with your teammates, you’re playmaking, you’re improvising, you’re running you’re also not running if you’re a goalie,” he said.

Along with handball, Birnbaum loves spending time with his coach in gym. “Russo is really like a god figure to me,” he said. “He teaches me how to love the culture of PE and it’s really made me a better human.”

“He’s told me about his Thanksgiving spread and it sounds like a really nice outlet for him to channel his post PE energy,” he said.

“Don’t let the physical educate you,” Birnbaum said. “You have to educate the physical.”


“Every day I go to the gym B period, and I get to play games with a bunch of people I don’t really know. I hate games,” Leonora Gogos (11) said.

As a three-season gym student, Gogos has developed many ways to evade the games that she loathes so much, she said. For example, she has several strategies avoid kickball.

“What I like to do is get a foul or get out,” Gogos said. “My preferred strategy is to get out. I’ll either bunt to the point where I do it a few times and then [the coach} is like ‘No, next,’ or I’ll kick it straight into somebody’s hands and then … I walk to the back of the line.”

When Gogos plays other games, she frequently stands in the back on an angle so that her coach will not notice her. “Sometimes, I never have to go,” she said.

During the fitness center rotation, she sits on the bike and pretends to steer the wheel, she said.

“I developed a chlorine allergy when swim season came around so I never actually had to go into the pool or the building that the pool was in,” she said

Russo noted that Gogos is frequently injured.

Despite her lack of enthusiasm for gym, Gogos still loves her coach. “Russo is great because he doesn’t actually make us do things that are cruel and unusual punishment, like swimming,” she said. “Also, he brought us cupcakes in gym.”