Hit The Showers! You Mean Get Naked With The Rest Of The Football Team And Lather Up In A Communal Stall After Practice? No Way. Today's High School Athletes Shower At Home. Modesty, It Seems, Thrives In The Locker Room.

Posted: October 10, 1999

About 50 boys on the Benjamin Franklin High School football team blocked, tackled and grunted for two hours in full pads, the temperature about 90 degrees, and finished off with 40-yard sprints.

At 6 p.m., shirts drenched with sweat, foreheads dripping, they plodded into the locker room.

Four boys showered.

Everyone else on the team rubbed on deodorant, threw on street clothes, and headed home.

"I'm hot," said Damien Landers, a senior tackle, after practice in early September, "but I shower alone."

"It ain't in my blood," said junior fullback Jermaine Smith. "I can't shower with somebody else."

Ben Franklin High in Philadelphia was typical of schools around the city, suburbs and nation: Few high school students today shower at school.

Coaches and athletes give two primary reasons: Even in these days of supposed sexual freedom, students are uncomfortable being naked in front of their peers. Also, they simply do not have enough time during the school day, and after school are in a hurry to get home.

This is a dramatic shift from the days when baby boomers were in school, and showers were routine, if not mandatory.

"In high school, my coach stood outside the shower and he checked you," said Scott Fuhrman, 40, the football coach at Perkiomen Valley High in Montgomery County. "Kids today? No. I see more aerosol showers than water showers."

In early September, for instance, about 55 varsity football players at Perkiomen Valley trudged into the locker room after a long practice. Eight showered. The rest just changed their clothes and went home.

Players on the boys varsity and junior varsity soccer team that same afternoon went home without even stopping in the locker room. Some pulled their street clothes over their soccer clothes in the parking lot. The girls tennis team went straight home as well.

Typical.

"My folks say it all the time, 'Why don't you shower? You're nasty,' " joked Carmen Falcone, a star football player at Perkiomen Valley. "I guess I'm dirty. But I prefer to shower at home." The trend is so pervasive and widespread that the design of school showers is now changing, according to experts. No longer are open "gang" showers being built.

"We're having to go to individual shower stalls," said Bill Day, one of the nation's best-known consultants on school design. "For whatever reason, students have become very modest. Unless you provide individual stalls, they won't use them."

Day, a former high school and college educator in Bloomington, Ind., said he has planned 40 high schools in the last three years all over America. "The same thing is true in all parts of the country," he said. "I ask about showers, and they say, 'Well, the kids don't use them.' I do a lot of facility analysis also and I see showers in all schools that are being used for storage or something else. It's a phenomenon that's only occurred in the last five years."

Eric Johnson, another school architect based in Atlanta, says his firm is still asked to build showers in high schools, though the trend is definitely toward stall showers if the school system can afford them.

"Kids are more aware of their bodies and more shy about them, which seems odd when you read about sexual freedoms," he said. He also said of showers: "We're not putting them in any middle schools."

Charles Hicks just retired in June after 17 years as head football coach at Germantown High School in Philadelphia, and four years as head track coach.

Few if any of his athletes showered in a locker room at the high school practice field. For one reason, like many city kids, they still had a long ride home by public bus.

"When they're finished, it's often 6 p.m. and dark and they're in a hurry," Hicks said. "They don't want to take time with anything. That's the way of the world anymore."

The other reason, Hicks said, is self-preservation.

"Kids today are more sexually sensitive," he explained. "They're very conscious of who has hair under their arms, and, you know, other things."

He said the hazing can be so intense that most students simply won't risk abuse by allowing others to see them naked.

"Kids are ruthless today," he said. "Some kids are cruel. In our day, we made fun of people, but we really cared about people."

One football coach suggested there is a cost to this change in behavior. Teammates do not linger in the locker room as they once did. They don't bond in the same way.

"There's a little bit of camaraderie that's missing because of that," said George Stratts, the football coach at Cardinal O'Hara. "Our teams are very close. Don't get me wrong. We have team dinners and our teams are close. But there is something missing."

When interviewed for this article, most students responded with puzzled looks. The idea of showering at school was simply foreign.

For many parents, the idea of not showering was equally foreign.

Consider Mark and Michael Bare. Mark graduated from Haddonfield Memorial High School in New Jersey in 1973. He ran track and cross- country. "Of course, we showered in school," he said. "We'd have a big time after practice. Everybody showered."

His son Michael Bare, 18, is a senior today at Haddonfield. He also runs track and cross-country. Michael showers at home. His reason were several: "The showers are disgusting." In the football locker room, he added, "the showers aren't even hooked up." And finally, he explained, "being the uptight '90s, there's the issue of privacy."

Even in schools where the showers are new or renovated, students rarely use them.

"Last year we moved into this brand-new facility," said Hank Berardi, boys soccer coach at Bishop Shanahan high school in Downingtown. "A brand spanking new locker room. Do they shower now? Nah, they don't.

"The facility is certainly open for them to use, but they generally don't," he said. "They have deodorant in their bags. And they leave."

When high school kids stopped showering is difficult to pinpoint. Some coaches believe the trend started a decade ago.

"When I went to the Prep in the '70s, we always took a shower before we went home," said Gil Brooks, head football coach at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia. "I coached at college level and everybody showered. I went back to the Prep in '92, and nobody showered. I'd be swearing, 'Why isn't anybody taking showers!' "

For a while, Brooks ordered his football players to shower. "Guys were trying to wear their underwear in the shower," he said. "I had a bucket of wet underwear. . . . I have no explanation."

Many St. Joseph's Prep players recently offered their views on high schools and showers:

Eddie Turner, a senior: "First thing you think about, you want to get home."

John Connors, a sophomore: "Our freshman basketball coach made us shower last year. We all went in in our boxers. I just didn't want to be with a bunch of naked dudes."

Prince Holloway, a junior: "They don't want to get naked in front of a bunch of guys."

John Paul Mantey, a senior: "If the seniors and stuff had done it when we got here, we might have continued."

Frank Cattie, a senior: "I will shower at school once in a blue moon. If there's a dinner to go to right after the practice, then I'll shower."

Peg Pennepacker is the athletic director at Perkiomen Valley. Eight years ago, she worked at Blue Mountain High School in Schuylkill County. Showers after gym were mandatory. But one day, she recalled, "a kid in the shower went after a coach." The student contended that the coach was staring at him in the shower. A lawsuit was threatened. "After that," she said, "showers were optional."

Girls were always less inclined than boys to shower at school. But the same story holds true: Once, they showered. Now, they don't.

"I think time constraints are a factor," said Karen Moliver, a physical-education teacher and junior varsity tennis coach at Perkiomen Valley. "In phys ed we give them seven or eight minutes to dress."

Georgia Carinci, a varsity tennis player at Perkiomen Valley, explained why she doesn't shower after gym class: "There's not enough time and you don't want to be wet and gross. . . . And gym class is not that competitive."

The one exception to this trend appears to be wrestlers.

Wrestlers still shower at many schools, primarily because the risk of skin diseases from the mats is so great. Also, wrestlers are the most body-conscious and least modest among high school athletes.

Swimmers often shower at school after practice, but some swimmers say they shower with their suits on.

But maybe the trend can be reversed.

Early in September, when the subject of showering was brought up at Ben Franklin High, only a few showered. But 10 days ago, nearly half the varsity team showered, according to coach Allen Rushin.

Ernest Admiral, a senior punter, punt returner, running back and linebacker, was one of the original few who showered.

He doesn't worry about what people say or think. "It feels good," Admiral said. "I'd rather have a shower pounding on me than people."

Michael Vitez's e-mail address is mvitez@phillynews.com

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