Our Views: School board right to support credit for sports

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Janesville School District should grant a half credit of physical education for high school students who play interscholastic sports.

Other districts also should consider this concession.

Wait a minute, you might think. Doesn’t cultivating the lifelong habit of being physically active and introducing the many ways to do so involve more than simply getting in shape and learning a sport such as football? And didn’t The Gazette report that the Janesville School Board was exploring this credit change just a day after the newspaper’s lead headline announced that a new study says children are falling behind physically?

Well, yes. That story did suggest that kids today can’t run as far or as fast as their parents did when they were young. It found that children’s fitness worldwide has declined the past three decades.

The wide majority of students who go out for sports, however, aren’t the type of kids we should worry about sitting around watching TV or playing video games all day. Besides, the tradeoff is that students who would get a half credit of phy ed for playing sports would gain flexibility in choosing other classes. Kids could take classes that better fit their interests.

The state requires students to earn 1.5 credits in phy ed. A law that took effect in December 2011 grants school boards the power to let students who play sports skip one phy ed course and instead add a half credit of English, social studies, math, science or health. Nothing wrong with kids taking more such core classes. It was no surprise that, in this era of childhood obesity, the American Heart Association opposed the legislation.

Yes, phy ed teachers will suggest their courses involve more than just exercise and that they teach skills that differ from those kids learn in sports. However, Kim Ehrhardt, the Janesville district’s director of instruction, says the phy ed departments do not oppose the change.

School board member Bill Sodemann has been pushing it for years, and a board committee last month endorsed it for further development. As Sodemann has suggested, it’s ludicrous to force a star athlete to take phy ed instead of getting the chance to sign up for more advanced placement classes. Most athletes get more exercise playing sports than they would in a gym class. The situation could be likened, Sodemann reasons, to requiring a student taking AP calculus to go back and take a basic math course just because it’s required.

Besides, playing basketball or volleyball could translate into adult participation in such sports.

It’s worth noting that board member Kristin Hesselbacher, who often sees things differently than Sodemann, sees the merits in this change. She has a close-up view of the dilemma students face. Her son is trying to get all the science classes he can but finds the phy ed requirement blocking another option.

Ehrhardt told The Gazette that he will work with principals and phy ed teachers on a proposal for the board to consider and that the change might be in place by early next fall.

The sooner the district can kick this idea through the uprights, the better.

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