By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

Many male baby boomers who attended schools throughout Otter Tail County in the 1950s and 1960s recall rope climbs as part of physical education, especially during their middle school days. Today, girls also take part in rope climbing.

Physical education teachers taught the reach, lift and clamp technique in order to climb up a rope 20 feet in height in the boys gyms at many schools throughout the county. 

After reaching up on the rope, a climber would lift his knees to the chest and then clamp down the right foot on top of the left foot. To make this technique work, the rope needed to be on top of the left foot. 

Others would secure the rope between one’s ankles and/or knees. This was followed by another segment of reach, lift and clamp. And so on up the rope.

On the way down, in order to avoid rope burns, students were told to lean back, loosen feet, keep both hands on the rope and slide down in a controlled manner.

Classmates who later entered military service say the rope climbs during their school days served them well during basic training.

In Fergus Falls, physical education teacher Oats LeGrand made sure there were a variety of activities as part of what was known simply as phy ed. 

“Oats was firm but caring and was a source of encouragement,” said Bruce Ritchey, a 1966 Fergus Falls High School graduate, now retired and living in Austin, Texas. “Oats, as a junior high football and basketball coach, challenged us to be responsible sports team members.”