This article originally appeared in the January 1984 issue of AB with the title, “National Group Hopes to Unite 50 State Fitness Councils.”
“National fitness programs will not reach their full potential until every state is involved—until we have 50 strong, fully-funded state councils,” says Jim Liston, head of the National Association of Governor’s Councils on Physical Fitness and Sports (NAGCPFs).
Established in 1979 in an attempt to unify the individual governors’ councils already in existence, the NAGCPFS has assumed some lofty goals. Already in in possession of a $10,000 grant from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association and an in-kind offer of office space and equipment from the American University in Washington, D.C., NAGCPFS hopes to establish a central office by the end of this year with a two-year operating budget. To do that, however, the organization needs more private support.
“We’re not doing to be completely effective until we have a full-time staff,” says Liston, who functions as the Association’s president from his office in Illinois, where he is executive director of the Illinois Government Council on Health and Physical Fitness. “Right now we’re just trying to hold the national organization together with volunteer help. That really limits how much you can do.”
Future of Fitness Tied to States
SGMA was impressed enough with the NAGCPFS program to make a commitment, says Liston, “because they see that the future of the national fitness movement is directly tied to how strong the government councils are. You need state councils to promote fitness on a regular, day-to-day basis and they need an adequate budget to do that.”
The key to developing efficient councils in all 50 states is a strong national office that can lobby state officials to make that commitment, says Liston. There are currently 31 member states in NAGCPFS, but he hopes that number will increase to 40 or more within two years. “We feel that’s possible. It will take a lot of hard work, but we’re committed to that.”
The Association gets a golden opportunity in February, when members will attend the National Governor’s Association conference. “We’re going to aggressively pursue the states that have not established governor’s councils to explain the importance of their involvement and support,” says Liston. “We want to show them what a governor’s council can accomplish if properly organized and funded.”
Because they operate at the state level, governor’s councils are better equipped to develop and promote activities that will involve more of that state’s citizens in sports and fitness. State councils have established programs for senior citizens and the handicapped, organized and promoted Olympic-style State Games and worked with employers to establish employee fitness programs. The President’s council on Physical Fitness and Sports recognizes the importance of this local support for fitness programs and has worked with the HAGCPFS as an affiliate to supports its goals.
State Councils Need Adequate Budget
Establishing a council is not enough by itself, says Liston. “There’s nothing worse than putting out an executive order without any meat and potatoes behind it.” Governor’s councils should be mandated by statute—not by executive order—and with a budget that will allow it to function effectively.
“We’ve seen that states with the greatest success,” says Liston, are those with budgets of $50,000 to $100,000 a year or more. That provides a basic, no-frills working situation with at least one full-time staff person, preferably two, who have the time to go out and meet people, to answer the phone and to establish a relationship with other sports and fitness groups and with the private sector.
“We’ve found that the private sector is usually interested in supporting these programs if the state has already appropriated fuds,” says Liston. “They want to see that there’s adequate staff to do a professional job, so you have to put a commitment on the line.”
In return, says Liston, the taxpayers come out well, because their investment may be paid back as much as 10-1 by private support for fitness programs.
Groundwork Is Already Laid
Aside from convincing new states to establish governor’s councils, NAGCPFS is also available to help them get started. “There’s no need for them to start at the beginning,” says Liston. “The book is already written. They can literally copy the statures that are already in effect. The initial mistakes and hardships have been taken care of for them.”
The national organization can serve as a focal point for information as well, with individual councils exchanging experiences with various programs and learning from each other’s successes and failures, eliminating the constant “reinvention of the wheel.”
Other key functions for the national office include working as a catalyst to establish national programs and maintaining close working relationships with other organizations of similar interests, such as the Association for Fitness in Business, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the National Parks and Recreation Association and the National YMCA.
Still in its infancy, the National Association seems poised to play a major role in the continuing growth of fitness programs in the U.S. The group’s national conference in Colorado Springs, March 16-19, promises to be a hotbed of activity.