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PE classes done right are major game changers
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I dreaded high school PE classes.

If you had no skills or coordination it was a daily nightmare.

Either there were organized games such as dodge ball - aptly called slaughter ball by those with athletic prowess and quicker feet - or calisthenics.

The world’s not a fun place when you can’t do a decent pull-up. And being taunted certainly doesn’t do much for motivation. When we played baseball, there wasn’t a game that someone didn’t tell me that I threw like a girl. Actually, if I could throw like a girl I’d be happy.

And of course, if someone messed up and left a towel out or did some other infraction we’d run bleachers for the entire next class. That often happened twice a week. It was easy to view PE as punishment.

It’s not that I blamed the teachers. Lincoln High - like many high schools back in the 1970s - viewed PE as a place to dump students. The high school had only 780 students but PE teachers would have as many as 80 students in a class. Of course, many teachers looked down on the entire concept of PE, practically sneering that it was essentially play time and not a fitting discipline to be taught alongside calculus, physics, and English.

 State level educators “inspired” on by slipping college entrance scores didn’t help matters much when they gave school districts the green light to make PE elective for high school students.

All of this happened despite concrete research available at the time that linked classroom attentiveness and academic performance with physical fitness. Little wonder the overall health and fitness of California school-age youth started deteriorating, especially when coupled with other tech age diversions.

Making matters worse was the concept that playing sports per se, running laps and doing jump jacks was being fit. Then there was the macho thing where people - and especially teens - had it drummed into their head that big muscle meant being in tip top shape.

That was blown to smithereens one August during conditioning for football players at Mesa Verde High in Citrus Heights. One of the coaches had a girlfriend who was an Jazzercise instructor.

I was in her class at the time and got invited along to do a story.

Almost every player was snickering about how the workout would be a piece of cake. They weren’t laughing for long. Most were gasping for breath before the 10 minute warm-up was finished.

The football coaching staff - and the school’s wrestling coach - were so sold on the results that they incorporated aerobics into weekly conditioning.

Physical education has been slowly moving toward “life skills” - exercises that students can do for the rest of their lives after high school.  Sierra High’s adaption of CrossFit for their bodybuilding classes takes it to a new level.

Once teens realize they can break through their own perceived physical limitations it not only helps them build a healthier body and lifestyle but it also strengthens their self-confidence.

Imagine how the health care debate and worries about poor nutrition and obesity would change if we could plug people into physical fitness when they are teens. Programs like CrossFit can benefit a wide spectrum of teens. It can even  make significant positive changes in those who are already stronger than their peers by helping them draw a correlation between exercise coupled with “eating clean” and how they look and feel.

We could easily slash billions of dollars off health care costs and make stocks in firms hawking diet products go into a major tailspin.

All we have to do is treat physical education as a priority and to do so in a manner that allows teens to see and feel real results.


This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.