Monday, March 05, 2007
I benefited from PE - so should your kids...
Somewhere, in the back of my dresser drawer, along with my socks and old T-shirts, is a little white piece of cloth. It's a ribbon I won when I was in sixth grade, for placing third in the 100-yard dash at my school. To most people my age, that little memento would have been in the trash years ago, but I have held on to it for one reason. Until the time I received that ribbon, I had never been very good at sports.
You see, I was a chubby kid. Not obese, not heavy, just chubby and chubby kids just didn't get to play with the "big leaguers," especially when the "big leaguers" were other sixth-graders who were faster, stronger and thinner. I couldn't kick a ball very far, I never crossed the monkey bars without falling and I always became winded when I ran. But every day, I would go out to the playground for PE and try my best to improve, until one day I outran a girl in my class. Then I beat two others, then three more! I was invincible!!! I kept running. I started to gain more confidence, my weight began to drop and I was now a force to be reckoned with. Finally at the end of the year, our school held a Sports Day, sponsored by the President's Council on Physical Fitness. I ended up in the final pack of ten runners.
You know after all these years, I can still smell the air that day, feel the sun on my shoulders as I ran towards that finish line. I didn't win, but I placed and to me that was my greatest victory ever. I was a school-honored athlete. Since that time, I've won many awards, both in sports and in my professional life but that little white ribbon will always be my most prized possession.
Today, many of our schoolchildren will never have the chance to know the "thrill of victory" that I experienced. It's not because they aren't capable; they've just never been given the time or space to go out and play. With cuts to our schools' PE programs and lifestyles that promote indoor activities, many youngsters don't get as many opportunities to run, leap or jump. And that has caused a nation of heavy kids.
Now a coalition of private, public and non-profit groups including the YMCA and the National Recreation and Park Association have formed a partnership called "Play Every Day." Their goal is to make that sure every child in this country has the opportunity to get out and play at least 60 minutes every day. Sixty minutes is important, because doctors have found that keeping active for an hour can ward off heart disease and Type 2 diabetes in children.
Sixty minutes may sound easy, but it's not. That's because a lot of kids today are conditioned to watch TV or play video games during their free time. Their thumbs are the strongest muscles they have. Many parents are leery of letting their kids go to public playgrounds for safety reasons. And in some cases, new schools are being built without playgrounds, because of budget restrictions.
The group, which recently kicked off its campaign, hopes to provide money and ideas to create new programs and legislation that will make it easier for children to get off the couch and go back to the playground. Along with researchers from Stanford University, the coalition has come up with a "Community Play Index" that will measure or gauge which projects promote the most physical activity and whether they're worth funding .That means, for example, more money for school playgrounds, revenue for sidewalks for housing divisions that have only streets to play on, and funding for police presence at unsafe community parks.
The partnership hopes, if its efforts work, that more students will have the opportunity to get out, get going and get fit.
Do you know of programs in your community or schools that can help kids become more active? I'd like to hear about them.
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