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The Pillsbury Doughboy Meets Physical Education

By Chick Moorman

Five foot nine.
210 pounds.
Clearly the prototype of the Pillsbury Doughboy.

That was me in high school. And it was that body, along with an equally unconditioned attitude, that I dragged to physical education class every day in 1959. Irv Menzel was the instructor. He was also the boys’ basketball coach. He owned a whistle and a clipboard and what looked like one set of clothes which he appeared to wear every day.

Coach Menzel was determined in the winter semester of that year to have us all learn how to do, among other things, a neck spring. A neck spring, for those of you who are too young to recall or fortunate enough to have missed an Irv Menzel in your high school experience, is a physical maneuver that requires that you begin flat on your back on a mat. You then rock back and forth until you get as far up on your shoulders as possible. At that critical point, you place your hands behind your shoulders and plant them firmly on the mat. You then push with your hands, at the same time kicking your legs forward. If all goes as planned, you land on your feet, to your own amazement and to the surprise of anyone else who might be watching.

I could not do a neck spring. I tried. I practiced. I was just too out of shape. Too many pounds, not enough muscle. Give me a middle linebacker to block and I was your man. Forget this neck spring thing. That was for gymnasts. I was a football player.

On testing day, Coach Menzil appeared with his clipboard and whistle. “On the mat, Moorman,” he said, when it became my time to demonstrate my ability. I complied.

“Give me a neck spring,” he commanded.

“I’ve never done a neck spring,” I whispered meekly.

“I didn’t ask you if you had ever done one. I asked you do one for me now.”

“Coach, I can’t do a neck spring.”

“Moorman, act as if you can. Act as if you have done five of them already.”

“But I haven’t done any.”

“I didn’t ask you how many you have done. Just act as if you know how to do one.”

“OK, Coach.”

With adrenaline pumping and classmates watching, I rocked back and forth until I got high on my shoulders. Then I pushed and kicked simultaneously in a way that I had never pushed and kicked before. For whatever combination of reasons, I landed on my feet. I had successfully completed the first neck spring of my life. The coach checked me off his list and called on another student.

Fifty years later I remember that first neck spring. I am also aware that it is the only neck spring I have ever done. That’s right. I have never used that skill anywhere, ever, in my entire life, ever again. Which tempts me to say that a neck spring is not unlike a lot of other things we learn in school that we will never use again in our entire lives. Which then leads me to wonder why teachers teach those things in the first place.

Yet, as I think back, reflecting on what Irv Menzel taught me many years ago, I am aware that the neck spring was not what he was really teaching. The neck spring was merely the water he was splashing around in. What he was actually teaching is that you can do anything you set your mind to, that you can do things that might seem impossible at first glance if you act as if you can, and that the power of belief in yourself is a powerful force if harnessed in a focused direction.

Yes, Irv Menzel was a physical education teacher. But he was much more than that. Quietly, without a lot of fanfare, he put spirit in the forefront of the important educational trilogy of mind, body, and spirit. Thank you, Irv Menzel, from a reformed Pillsbury Doughboy.

Chick Moorman is the author of Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish a Child’s Spirit and, along with Thomas Haller, co-authored Teaching the Attraction Principle to Children: Practical Strategies for Parents and Teachers to Help Children Manifest a Better World. Chick and Thomas are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for them or to learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: and