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The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)

NOKESVILLE, Va. — The cavernous gymnasium at Patriot High School can be intimidating for 15-year-old Kristin Ansah. When students break out the hockey sticks before gym class, she ducks for cover.

"I don't work out," she said. "I don't play sports."

But Kristin looks forward to her physical education classes because her teachers let her choose what she wants to play. During the first unit, she bypassed football and tennis for jump-rope games with her friends.

The program at the Prince William County school is part of a national effort to mobilize a generation that has been labeled the most sedentary in the nation's history. It represents a shift in physical education to reverse the trend of inertia, with gym teachers working harder to make sure their classes don't appeal just to the most athletic students while the rest of the kids in school-issued shorts are left sitting on the sidelines.

"The country depends on us to do something different than what we have been doing," said Dolly Lambdin, president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators. "We cared too much about who is the best, who can do the most push-ups, and not nearly enough about what it means to be healthy and physically active for a lifetime."

Out are dodgeball and other sports that use kids as targets, contests that reward students who are the strongest and exercise doled out (or withheld) as a form of punishment.

In are personal fitness plans, target heart-rate zones, and sports that play to different strengths and introduce students to activities they can pursue across a lifetime.

Some people are wary of the changes, worrying that the cultural shift could soften the nation's children.

"It's becoming too politically correct," said Dennis Senibaldi, a school board member in Windham, N.H., who advocated against a policy in his district to ban dodgeball last year.

"We want to teach kids you don't always get first place, you don't always get a trophy. ... My son didn't make the seventh-grade soccer team. Should we get rid of the soccer program because not everyone made it?"

June 29, 2014

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