I don't know what year they started, I don't know for sure what year they stopped doing them, but they were an essential for most kids from elementary to high school. They showed your school spirit. They were blue and white. They were useful for many things. They were the Garretson Booster Gym Bag.
Very simple in their design (one big pouch made by two circles of fabric that made up the ends, sewn to a rectangle of the same blue ripstop nylon that closed in the middle at the top with a long zipper that eventually broke. White nylon straps straddled the cyclinder and were perfectly functional). It seemed everybody had at least one. I think we'd each get a new one every year whenever they sold them.
I'm not even certain who sold them. I don't know if it was an FHA thing, a band booster thing, a Letterman's Club thing, or maybe even just business selling them on Main. I just know that I always had one. When the zipper broke or the seams started to tear apart and repair was beyond mom's skill on her sewing machine, a new one would just appear.
On one side of the bag would be the white imprint of the words "Garretson Blue Dragons" with the standard snake-like profile of our dragon logo in the middle of the words. On the opposite side of the bag would be a grid of the sponsors on the bag. "Jesse James Mini-Mart"... "Theodeson Law Firm"... "Garry Insurance".... "First National Bank".... "Johnson Drug".... "The Hairloom".... "Sanders Printing".... "Engebretson Hardware".... "Virg's IGA"... and many more. But these always seemed to be most of the standards.
Our gymbags were our all-purpose piece of equipment. You could stuff all your books in them along with your pens and pencils for your everyday to and from school. They could be used as a literal gym bags to transport your clothes for gym class or for school sports. I know that for myself, I bet I took mine to every cross country meet, basketball game and track meet. On any given school day, I'd need to bring my homework AND clothes for practice in a bag, maybe two... sometimes having to use my leftover bag from the previous year with a completely useless zipper.
They were useful year-round for all kinds of trips. When we'd go to the lake or when I went to camp, the gym bag was my second small bag that I'd stuff full of the "extras" (books, journals, magazines, walkman, tapes, batteries, more batteries, games, more batteries yet, etc.) . It was usually this bag that would be by my feet on long trips in the backseat of the car. It was this bag that would be by my side in the school bus on the way to track meets.
The gymbag was useful for taking things up to the pool in the summer. Extra swimsuit, towel, flip flops. In the summer, particularly around the 4th of July, it was most handy for carrying my full arsenal of Whistlers and Roman Candles around with me to have handy whenever we'd all get together and decide to have Bottle Rocket Wars somewhere.
Bottle Rocket Wars would take place when 4 or more (sometimes over a dozen people would divide into two teams and stand about 20 yards apart and then proceed to shoot at each other. Looking back, it wasn't the wisest decision a bunch of teenagers could make, but then again, it wasn't the worst. My gymbag would be packed full of a few grosses of whistlers and a couple dozen roman candles... I'd have along a lighter and a pack of swisher sweet cigars for lighting them as they gave me the best "A-Team-Leader-John "Hannibal" Smith"-look".
Shooting styles of the different weapons varied. Some people opted for holding a small light hollow tube like a pipe or section of tent pole, lighting the whistler, dropping it in, extending from the body and aiming at where you wanted in to go and then hope for the best. I compared this to musket fire in the revolutionary war. Effective, but randomly so. Others shot them right out of their hands. These people were idiots and apparently had no nerve ending in the skin on their hands. This was about as effective as the first method. The throw method was my favorite as it was random, but had a good secondary effect. I'd light the fuse wait a second and then, with an underhanded throw motion, launch it toward the opposing side at about 45 degrees up and out. If I timed it right, just as the fuse-lit whistler was going past the peak of it's arch, it'd ignite and shoot down at 45 degrees towards somebody on the opposing line. If place right, it could much more effectively shoot down to their feet and find their ammunition stores setting off a specacular show. This only happened once, but it was worth it. I actually got to the point in my technique of doing this where I would launch the whistler at a lower and faster angle and just try to pitch it to their feet and let the whistler do the work shooting around at ground level. Then I started doing two at a time or three. The battles would go much quicker, but they were a great way to pass the time and end up smelling like gunpowder. Nobody ever lost an eye and other than a few powder burns, nobody ever got seriously hurt. **disclaimer: kids, don't ever do this at home.
Which leaves the question. Where can I get one of these awesome bags? Did somebody hoard them? Did anybody stockpile them? Was there a worldwide shortage of ripstop nylon? Did the entire world switch from gymbags to backpacks at the same time? I remember distinctly my first JansSport backpack at college. So cool having a front pouch for pens and a hanging snap loop inside for keys... but I'll save that for another day. For now, I'll leave you with the glory that was the blue gymbag.
[ If I had a picture of one, I'd insert it here... I'm looking but I can't seem to find one. If you have one... send it to me and I'll feature it here and give you full credit. Bonus credit for one without a broken zipper]
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.