Two years ago John B. Kelly, the Philadelphia financier and sportsman, brought some shocking news to the attention of President Eisenhower. The news was embodied in the now widely known Kraus-Prudden study, which showed that American children were 49.2% weaker than their European peers in a test of minimum muscular fitness (SI, Aug. 15, 1955, The Report that Shocked the President). The President, properly alarmed, invited a panel of prominent sports figures to a White House luncheon to discuss the implications of these findings. At the luncheon, held in July 1955, it seemed to be the consensus that Americans, deprived by modern comforts of the physical exercise that was a natural part of their ancestors' lives, would have to take conscious and positive action to reestablish and sustain their vigor. The following June the resultant President's Conference on Youth Fitness took place in Annapolis (SI, July 2, 1956). The outcome of this conference was an Executive Order establishing the President's Council on Youth Fitness, composed of Cabinet members, and the President's Citizens Advisory Committee, to be appointed at a later date. In September 1956, Dr. Shane MacCarthy was named executive director of the Council, and last month the Citizens Committee—composed of 119 people from the fields of physical education, recreation, child care, business and journalism—was appointed, with Carter Burgess, president of TWA, as chairman. Thus, for the first time in history an organizational mechanism was created at the highest federal level to deal with the individual physical well-being of the youth of America. This was a necessary forward step and a long one. How long will now depend on how well the Council conducts its affairs and how profoundly it inspires the states, the cities, the educators, the parents of America. And inspire the Council must. For here is a federal agency that must rely on the worthiness of its mission, its efficiency and its charm. It has no legal force, no budget to speak of, no police powers.
This is an article from the Aug. 5, 1957 issue
Three months ago SPORTS ILLUSTRATED began a survey to evaluate fitness progress during the two-year talking stage since the President first alerted the nation to the problem. The President's fitness representatives, physical educators, recreationists, school principals, school coaches, youth agency workers, physical education researchers, physicians, parents and children—were interviewed by the magazine's correspondents in 48 states. The nationwide survey disclosed certain broad patterns in fitness that may be of considerable interest to the President's Citizens Committee when it holds its first meeting at West Point next month.
Indeed, since this was a purposeful survey, it would be entirely proper to call what follows "Notes for the West Point Conference on Physical Fitness":
Dr. Shane MacCarthy has kept interest in the Council alive with a 20-state speech-making tour, but many people who would like to help say they have been bewildered and frustrated by his failure to offer specific recommendations which they had expected to hear. It appears that the Council has not yet satisfactorily and fully explained itself to those who can help it most at this stage.
During the 11 months Dr. MacCarthy has been in office, he has covered some 50,000 miles and has delivered some 88 speeches. His lilting Irish voice has been heard from San Jose, Calif. to East Stroudsburg, Pa. to Great Falls, Mont, and Silver Spring, Md., and after each speech a generous shower of press clippings has fluttered back to his Washington office. Over and over his eager and sometimes wary-listeners heard him say that the Council has no advice to offer on how to achieve fitness and should have none ("Fitness cannot be dictated"), that the government is not prepared to spend any money on fitness ("Fitness can't be bought by dole") and that the function of the Council is to persuade the American people to do something about their unfitness ("We are not doers—but stimulators"). This theoretically sound policy of insisting that action begin at the local level has produced confusion and sometimes stifled action. Walter Roy, director of recreation for the Chicago Park District, is speaking not only for himself when he says: "It's a funny thing—they haven't spelled out yet what they mean. We're ready to do what they want, but they apparently don't know what we should do. They're holding conferences and talking about what the President means by 'youth fitness.' They've suggested that we do what we want. But it doesn't make sense to start a program and then find later on that they have an entirely different thing in mind.... So we're just marking time."
In a few instances where Dr. MacCarthy has made concrete proposals they were not taken seriously. Example: his suggestion that New York's Fifth Avenue be closed to motor traffic on Sunday and open only to cyclists and walkers. Nonetheless, Dr. MacCarthy's mellifluous speeches, for all their lack of specifics, have inspired people to take a good look at how the pattern of life, almost imperceptibly changing in their communities and homes, has resulted in increasingly less physical activity.
Only one state—California—has made a major advance in its fitness program. Some others have held meetings, formed committees and provided local guidance, but California is the only state that can serve as a model for other states and for the Council.
California's record is so impressive that for the last two months inquiries about the organization and development of the California project have been received from all over the United States. In 1955, 17 agencies and associations, whose members included psychologists, physicians, physical educators, teachers, parents, recreationists and school administrators, formed the California Committee on Fitness. Under the committee's influence, California school physical education programs have become more demanding. There is a new emphasis on developing a greater degree of individual fitness, and body-building activities like gymnastics have enjoyed a renascence.
The committee regularly publishes the California Fitness Newsletter, which reports on fitness developments throughout the state. Examples: Los Angeles County schools have launched a countrywide fitness study to determine the effects of health education, physical education and recreation on youth and to plan for upgrading those programs. In Oakland seventh-grade boys in five junior high schools took part in a pilot-testing program which showed that upper body muscles are particularly weak. Because of this finding, testing will be added to the existing instructional program. Fresno this year added calisthenics, tumbling, swimming and (for boys only) weight lifting, boxing and wrestling to its physical education program. Committees all over the state are working on long-range studies that will shed further light on the value of existing physical education practices.
The American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation affiliates have held state-wide conferences in California, Oregon, Illinois, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kansas, Washington and Michigan. In Illinois and California the governors called meetings and gave their backing to the fitness project. Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Maryland and West Virginia have completed or are in the process of bringing out new physical education guides which reflect a new interest in fitness. (See also slate-by-stale report, page 34).
The record is better for cities and towns. Omaha, Detroit and Philadelphia, for example, have expanded park and recreational facilities and have done Kraus-Weber testing on a city-wide basis.
Omaha has done widespread Kraus-Weber testing in schools, in YMCAs, on playgrounds. The resulting publicity so captured the imagination of Omaha's adults that Kraus-Weber was taken up as a parlor game, and some fraternal service clubs began starting off their meetings with limbering-up exercises.
Philadelphia, under Recreation Commissioner Robert Crawford, has increased its facilities and personnel by 75% in the last five years and has held training workshops for playground leaders and recreation administrators to make sure that existing facilities are put to maximum use.
In Detroit, John J. Considine, general superintendent of the Department of Parks and Recreation, did not wait for national or state aid or direction. Last October, Considine, concerned about "the weakling appearance" of today's youth, called a meeting of all his playground instructors. "I was sick of committees, and I laid it on the line. I ordered them immediately to inaugurate a program of setting-up exercises on each of our 421 playgrounds and to step up such activities as fencing, boxing, weight lifting....
It was compulsory for the leaders, but of course the boys and girls came voluntarily, and we can't require them to participate the way the schools can." Despite many experts' insistence that calisthenics are boring to children, more than 16,000 Detroit youngsters voluntarily took part in the playground system's fitness program. Because the program was so popular, the department staged a new event this spring called "The Detroit Future Olympians," in which some 400 boys were entered in the indoor-Olympic-type competition. Next week on Belle Isle, 5,000 boys and girls will compete in another Olympic-type meet.
There are now local fitness committees and councils in cities sprinkled over the country, but most of these groups are still in the talking stage, often because of delicate problems of coordinating overlapping youth organizations. Smaller towns, like Newtown, Conn. (SI, May 27, 1957), are getting the most use from their equipment and personnel by creating the joint position of town recreation director and school physical education director.
The stepchild status of physical education is the big problem of fitness in the schools and, of course, physical education shares with the rest of education the dilemmas of overcrowding and inadequate equipment. But the attitudes and values of the individual instructor often are the biggest stumbling block to progress. Those who should be most interested in furthering the President's fitness program—the physical educators—are doing the least to better fitness.
There are many reasons for this apparent contradiction. Unavoidably, perhaps, any criticism of the present physical condition of American children reflects on the achievements of the physical education profession. The natural reaction is to defend the program as it is and deny imperfections rather than to re-evaluate and discover if there is room for improvement.
This defensive posture afflicts even the most intelligent and thoughtful physical education leaders, and in some cases has led them to interpret every bit of new knowledge as vindication of their old methods or to espouse any theory that claims to give scientific evidence of the value of their profession. A case in point was the recent speech of Ellis Champlin, Director of the School of Physical Education at Springfield College, in which he courageously called on his colleagues to admit that physical education today needs more stress on activities for physical fitness and then negated the strength of this appeal by coming out in defense of Rogers' Law—a mathematical formula equating achievement on the Rogers Physical Fitness Index with ability to learn anything (including Greek and calculus). Most educators who applaud the many contributions to physical education made by Dr. Frederick Rand Rogers charitably ignore Rogers' Law.
Another problem for the profession is the confusing concept of "total fitness." Surprisingly, this tenet stems from the generally accepted educational theory that teaching should be aimed at "the whole child," giving careful attention to spiritual, emotional and physical sides of the child no matter what the subject of study is.
No one would argue with this if, in the process of teaching total fitness, body conditioning and learning of physical skills were accepted as the proper and unique contributions of physical education. Unfortunately, these fundamentals—which are not taught in any other course—often get lost in a welter of socially valuable but relatively inactive "activities."
In fairness to the profession it must be said, however, that there are problems contributory to the stepchild status that are not of the physical educators' making. One rests with parents who prefer to see school funds go into the creation of winning teams rather than the development of well-rounded programs which would reach all children. Another is a countrywide tendency to allow high school boys to substitute military training for gym (both the boy and the military establishment lose in this case). Still another exempts varsity athletes from regular physical education classes—classes which would help them both as athletes and future citizens.
Minimum requirements for school physical education programs are being threatened by the continuous, rapid suburban expansion outward from the great metropolitan centers. In some cases the suburbs have grown so fast that the powers that be and the citizens' groups are not worried about proper physical education facilities; they are worried about whether they will have a school at all.
Chicago reports that the great exodus of people to suburbia has jeopardized the physical education program both in the cities the people are moving from and the suburbs they are moving into. For instance, Tilden High School, long a traditional power in Chicago in football, basketball and track, is eliminating track this year for lack of personnel. Since the enrollment has dropped from 2,200 to 1,500 the number of instructors has correspondingly been cut.
Some physical education administrators have clear and progressive ideas for new programs, but they see little hope of achieving them unless more money is provided for fitness in the schools.
Dr. Isidor H. Goldberg, Assistant Director of Health Education of the New York City Board of Education, has defined an ideal program in these words: "We need a daily activities period, and we have to have both teaching and the time to apply teaching. We have to have scope and sequence of subject matter, a specific number of minutes for each activity. We have no test as they have in biology, no objective way of evaluating results. We can't have a uniform program (which ensures a certain minimum for every child) if conditions aren't uniform. We can't teach all the sports. There has to be a basic program, just as there is in arithmetic, so that in each grade the child learns certain things. For instance, we must be able to say that in the 10th grade of high school, with two 45-minute periods a week, a total of 60 periods in the year, every pupil should have eight consecutive periods of volleyball or basketball, eight of golf or tennis, six of track and field, four of bowling, eight of swimming, eight of softball, eight of dance, eight of gymnastics and achievement tests and two of group games. The youngsters should be able to play the games, know strategy, rules, history of the activity, should be equipped for future leisure-time activity. They should be tested and get a mark. Unless these things are required administratively we'll never get good results. We must enforce standards, we must have scientific, valid tests of proficiency. But it's useless to talk about the ideal program unless we get more money."
The chief professional organization in the field, The American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, has failed to take the lead because its own members disagree on what fitness is.
The concept of total fitness is so broad continued that conferences and meetings of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation or of its state affiliates have been inclined to degenerate into bickering over definitions of fitness and the merits of fitness tests. Last September 100 delegates of the national association finally issued a statement on fitness for youth. It is so diffuse as to be nearly meaningless.
The statement begins clearly enough: "Man is still meant to be an active, not a sedentary, creature....
He is confronted with the choice of including valid health information and vigorous physical activity in his life or suffering inevitable losses." But when the statement progresses to a definition of fitness the confusion begins, and the firm statement of the introduction is virtually contradicted. The definition reads in part: "Fitness is that state which characterizes the degree to which the person is able to function....
Ability to function depends upon physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual components of fitness....
Fitness is a constantly changing quality....
It is not possible to design a single set of standards for all age groups and persons....
Yet the common elements applicable to the human entity...must be recognized. For each individual at each stage there is a desirable level of total fitness...."
The statement lists seven qualities of fitness a person needs of which one ("sufficient coordination, strength, and vitality") applies to the vigorous physical activity extolled in the introduction.
Despite the AAHPER's inability to define fitness clearly, its leaders have been experimenting with a new physical fitness test for children 5 to 19, which (unlike the Kraus-Weber) includes 50-yard dashes, pullups, shuttle runs, soft-ball throws, swimming. So far the test has not been approved in final form; consequently, there is no way to evaluate it. In the meantime, Executive Secretary Carl Troester says: "We are only doing better now what we've always done."
One active step the AAHPER has taken is to hold outdoor education workshops in various areas of the country. Here physical educators, school administrators and recreation workers are taught by conservationists, hunting, fishing and boating experts the fine points of bait-casting, hitting a clay pigeon with a shotgun, safely maneuvering a canoe and survival in the woods. As Dr. Jan Gund, a teacher of physical education instructors at Northern Illinois State Teachers College, said at a workshop held in Wisconsin: "Outdoors you have the practical application of basic skills. Climbing, jumping are done with more joy and spontaneity than the simulated climbing of a rock done in a gym." These workshops are jointly sponsored by the AAHPER, state and local conservation and education departments, the American Red Cross, the Associated Fishing Tackle Manufacturers and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute. They are good as far as they go, but to participate in many of the sponsored activities one has to achieve some degree of fitness in advance.
A new appreciation of the value of exercise is evident in the medical profession, although most doctors agree that exact knowledge of specific benefits will have to await further research.
Last year's president of the American Medical Association, Dr. Dwight H. Murray, said recently: "All sorts of evidence points to the need for vigorous activity in childhood and youth...and we are coming to recognize the necessity for maintaining appropriate exercise through the middle years. This points up the importance of inculcating in boys and girls an appreciation and desire for physical activity that will persist throughout life." Dr. Paul Dudley White, the President's heart specialist, has long been an advocate of vigorous activity, and at the age of 71 is still a regular and enthusiastic cyclist. At a recent meeting of the American Therapeutic Society, Dr. Richard T. Smith of the Benjamin Franklin Clinic in Philadelphia urged physicians to prevent muscular rheumatism by impressing their patients with the need for exercise. "The population of the United States is becoming more dependent upon wheels for motion and more physically unfit....
Coaches of contact sports no longer find it necessary to limber highly trained muscles for several weeks to get better timing. They have to train inadequate muscles for a month to tighten lax joints and prevent injury," he said.
And the American College of Sports Medicine, composed of physicians, physiologists and physical educators, has proposed a fitness "bill of rights" requiring a daily hour of physical education for every child.
The YMCA and the AAU have done an exemplary job of modernizing and expanding their fitness programs. Some other private agencies and clubs have taken the cue and are launching national programs.
Since 1943 the Amateur Athletic Union, with insufficient publicity, staff and funds, has issued an average of 40,000 certificates annually for successful completion of its junior physical fitness test for ages 6 to 15. The distribution is widespread geographically, with most requests coming from smaller communities rather than metropolitan areas. It is one of the few tests unopposed by the majority of experts, although the Army recently criticized it for not including more arm-and shoulder-muscle exercises. The test is currently being revised to meet this objection. At present it consists of walking, running, jumping, throwing, situps, pullups and pushups, with modified forms of the last two being permitted for certain age groups.
The YMCA also offers a physical achievement test by which youngsters can measure their proficiency, but the great contribution of the Y since the Annapolis conference has been widespread Kraus-Weber testing of children and adults in its branches throughout the country. The Y has refused to join in the unproductive argument over what the Kraus-Weber test actually proves and instead uses it for its incontestable values: the ability to arouse interest in physical fitness and the simplicity of administering and scoring it. In 1956 the Y held a conference and certified some 50 Kraus-Weber testers. "Each one of the people certified has gone back to his branch and started a successful program," says Dr. Harold Friermood, Secretary of Health and Physical Education for the Y. The statistics on total number of people tested in Ys and with what results are not all in yet, but the project has expanded rapidly, not only from Y to Y, but more important from Y to surrounding community. Contrarily, two other youth agencies, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, take the position that they have been promoting fitness from the beginning and see no need for changes in their programs to meet the modern challenge. An executive of the Girl Scouts disavowed responsibility, declaring: "Where they have to get at fitness is in the public schools. We are only supplementary."
A number of adult organizations have acted in the past year to stimulate fitness interest. The General Federation of Women's Clubs has approved and disseminated Bonnie Prudden's program (see page 35) and called on its members to act for youth fitness in the coming year. This week the Junior Chamber of Commerce joins with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in "Youth Fitness Week" (Aug. 5-10). The four chapters which create the best community-wide program for fitness during the week will receive national awards from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED at West Point in September during the meeting of the President's Citizens Advisory Committee on the Fitness of American Youth. The judges will be Bobby Jones, Dr. Shane MacCarthy, Phil Rizzuto, Bonnie Prudden, the Jaycee president, Charles F. Shearer.
A number of courageous teachers have risked jobs and reputations to establish fitness programs on their own initiative.
A first-grade teacher in Woodside, N.Y., Mrs. Steffi K. Jones, decided to investigate with her own students the validity of the Kraus-Prudden report, which at first seemed "incredible" to her. She gave her students the Kraus-Weber test and found that 86.2% of them failed, compared with the 57.9% failure record reported in the original study. Alarmed, she got permission from the principal to use 15 minutes of the daily 40-minute physical education period in any way that she saw fit. She discarded dances and circle games as not requiring enough bodily movement and started out with simple exercises, such as the bunny-hop and jack-in-the-box. For the first few weeks, 15 minutes was too long. "By then several of my little tots would have simply given up in despair. The most vocal of these was Joseph, who with every movement would say: 'This is terrible, this is awful.' "
Aside from the fact that these children fatigued so quickly, they were a pathetic group to watch. These simple exercises seemed to call for monumental effort on their part. But in two months the rate of failure went down from 86.2% to 48.1%, and this encouraged Mrs. Jones to add more exercises and increase the time to the full 15 minutes. The fourth and final time she tested (in May) only 23.17% failed. More important than scores on a controversial test were other improvements Mrs. Jones traces to "the opportunity to move and use their bodies vigorously": less wiggling and squirming when required to sit still in a chair; improvement in skills of standing, walking, skipping; better posture; and the greatest point of all, "they are thoroughly enjoying themselves." When a child is chosen to lead the exercises, "his pride is boundless." Before school in the morning first graders can be seen showing other classes how to do the exercises, and they demonstrate them at home for the edification of brothers and sisters. The heartening point in Mrs. Jones's project is that all this has been accomplished within the framework of the curriculum, without new methods or more time, just a "shifting of emphasis from dancing and circle games to exercises to improve body tone," a program enjoyed by both pupils and teachers.
William Snyder of Redding, Conn., inspired by a speech and demonstration by Bonnie Prudden, changed his whole program for his classes from grades four to eight. He stopped teaching games with little physical activity in favor of more vigorous ones, dropping kickball, circle games and the kind of relay where a child runs once and then stands waiting while the rest of the line runs in turn. In such ball games as knocking down Indian clubs, he increased the number of the balls in play, thereby adding to the number of children participating and the number of chances each child has to play. He introduced calisthenics (using broomsticks as bar bells to interest younger children) and conditioning exercises done to music.
A man of imagination and insight into what pleases children, Snyder has avoided rooting his youngsters in one spot for mass exercise. As in follow-the-leader, the children form lines four to six abreast and move in waves behind him from one end of the gym to the other. One length of the gym may include three running steps, a jump, three walking steps and a deep knee bend, all done in time to music from a phonograph. The next time he may start hopping in circles down the length of the floor, with 20 or 30 shrieking, delighted children following. To make sure he is using activities which hold the greatest interest, Snyder has two evaluation days a year when the children pick out what they like to do best. Their choices are usually the most vigorous of the previous activities.
Snyder has done an excellent job of winning support in the school and the community for his revised program, a factor of vital importance which is often overlooked by his fellow educators. He publicized a survey among his pupils on how much time they spent watching television, and found it was as many hours as they spend in school. In good weather he drove around between 3 and 5 in the afternoon to see how many children were playing outdoors. "The greatest thing to see," he says with enthusiasm, "is a kid who'd rather play being a cowboy than watch cowboys on TV."
He put on an exercise show for the PTA and sent to parents the results of his Kraus-Weber testing. In one case, the parents of a boy who had failed the test took him off the school bus and insisted he bicycle to school until he was in good enough shape to pass the test. Some of the mothers are now clamoring for Snyder to run an exercise class for them in the evening.
Opponents of compulsory physical education in the schools contend it would "Hitlerize" youth; proponents insist it is no closer to regimentation than compulsory English classes—and just as necessary.
A Pennsylvania citizen speaks for many when he says: "The program for physical fitness under government tutelage sounds awfully similar to Hitler's and Mussolini's youth programs. Let there be no compulsory business. That's using totalitarian methods."
Other people have insisted that calisthenics and gymnastics are totalitarian and the proper physical activity in a democracy is team sports. In the state of Oregon a law making physical education compulsory was defeated thanks to the efforts of physical educators who didn't want to have their programs dictated by the legislature.
Proponents of exercise point out, however, that team sports are not enough to develop strength and endurance in American children (if they were there would be no fitness problem) and that calisthenics and gymnastics are a simple way to fitness. Furthermore, they hold that it is no more dictatorial to demand a compulsory physical education than other forms of compulsory education. "Do we permit a child to decide whether he wants to learn how to read, to spell, to add? Why should we let him determine whether he wants to have a healthy, vital body?"
Several organizations have detailed plans for future testing and research to help find specific answers to such questions as how much and what kind of exercise keeps a person fit at what age.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association in May through its Fitness Committee issued a 13-point recommendation. All member institutions and conferences were asked to increase the number of sports in intercollegiate and intramural activity and also to increase the number of teams competing in all sports. Another NCAA project which should prove enlightening is a questionnaire survey to determine how many sports, teams and participants are involved in intercollegiate, physical education and intramural activities. A second and similar survey will be made a year later to see what progress has been made during the 12-month period.
Officials of the AAHPER hope to get funds to administer their new fitness test to children on a nationwide basis. The American College of Sports Medicine, in laboratories of members in the U.S. and Canada, is doing research that will help answer such questions as how much exercise and when, and the relative fitness value of different sports.
Youth fitness bility of adults—and adults are going to have to do better. The American child (and his parents, for that matter) still gets insufficient exercise. Inspiration, though helpful, is not enough. Dr. MacCarthy's speeches have indeed stimulated interest, but too many willing Americans are waiting to be told what to do and how to do it.
The West Point conference may lead the way, but the delegates should not let the broad concept of total fitness obscure the immediate necessity for drafting a workable program for physical fitness which states, cities and schools can adopt as a model. Specifics will get action. This past summer Bonnie Prudden proved the hit of the NBC Home show with a weekly demonstration of simple fitness exercises for the whole family. Until public, quasi-public and private agencies get real programs in motion, youth fitness must remain the responsibility of parents. To stimulate their interest and to assist them in discharging this obligation (and for their own pleasure and good as well), SPORTS ILLUSTRATED presents on following pages the first of a weekly series of exercises for everybody, designed and demonstrated by the dynamic Miss Prudden.