- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

A year ago, Neil Williams, chairman of the Health and Physical Education Department at Eastern Connecticut State University, updated his so-called "Physical Education Hall of Shame." At the top was dodge ball, an American staple in the ever-changing diet of P.E. curriculum and dwindling traditional values. Mr. Williams calls dodge ball a "litigation waiting to happen," and says that "at most, about half the students really play the rest hide in the farthest reaches of the gym."

Now, whether Mr. Williams intended to cause a stir, or whether he merely attempted to display his personal brand of academic slop is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is he and other dodge-ball-is-out wusses believe the game is too aggressive and that it brings out the worst in children. A number of school districts agree, and have outlawed the game. What's worse is there is a new movement to ban other such harmless grade-school activities as tag, kick ball, musical chairs, relay games and Simon says. And, get this, they don't want children jumping rope. A rope is too tempting, some have said, to use as a weapon.

This is breaking my heart, guys.

This P.E. movement has us in a world where child's play isn't child's play, and where the real world no longer means boys had better be boys, and girls had better be girls despite the fact that signs on the lavatories distinguish between the two.

I happen to have fond memories of dodge ball because it was one of the few games I could play with my brothers and their friends boys who usually were more interested in playing cowboys and Indians, and with marbles and BB guns. Girls who graduated from Chatty Cathy to Barbie, and playing house to Easy Bake Ovens were in their way. In fact, baby-boomer girls weren't even supposed to touch boys lest the boy find out that a girl liked him (wink, wink).

Besides, as one male dodge ball fan said, the unspoken chivalrous rule of dodge ball meant that boys "never" hit the girls as hard as they'd hit the boys.

Alas, those good ol' days of innocent foreplay are being replaced by a new P.E. that anesthetizes our children and tries to create fat, lazy, but sexually active ones to boot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spells out the ramifications.

• Only 19 percent of all high school students are physically active 20 or more minutes per day, five days a week, in physical education classes.

m Inactivity among black girls is higher than that of whites 21 percent vs. 12 percent and there are marked declines in physical activity as age or grade in school increase.

• A study of 6-to-19-year-olds released last year shows that more and more children are overweight. For example, the number of overweight children between 1963 and 1970 hovered between 4 percent and 5 percent, and by 1999, it had nearly tripled to 14 percent.

Of course, being overweight puts children at risk of far more than reddened cheeks from a dodge ball, or a slightly bruised ego from losing out in musical chairs. "Overweight children are at risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and other serious health problems," the CDC's Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan said last year. Besides, fat children often grow up to be fat adults just ask Miss Cleo and Jenny Craig.

This enlightened age of physical education means our children aren't jumping rope or doing jumping jacks, but they're having sex. They aren't playing sports or red rover or duck duck goose, either, but they're line dancing to the rhythms of marachi and country music where hand-eye coordination gives way to swaying hips.

Here again, let's face facts.

• Not one state mandates physical education classes.

• Only one-fourth of high-school students take a gym class every day, and barely a quarter of high schools mandate three years of physical education.

• Barely half of all middle, or junior high schools require three years of gym classes.

• Between 1991 and 1995, the number of students taking daily physical education classes dropped from 42 percent to 25 percent.

• While teen sex has declined in recent years, a disturbing new trend has emerged alongside the new P.E. there has been a 15 percent increase in sex for children 13 and younger since 1997.

If you don't believe the consequences, consider the fact that health classes aren't old-school health classes anymore, either, and reconsider the other facts including that only one in three teen-age mothers earns a high school diploma then really think about the P.E. issue again. If adolescents and teens are not properly releasing all that pent-up energy by attending regularly scheduled gym classes, how do they exhale after they are literally let loose at the end of their six-hour school day?

So, while learning how to line dance might help Wendy and Jemal come prom time, it can't help either of them get rid of their "baby fat" and, worse, come prom night, they can't find a babysitter.

Surely you get my drift.

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