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BACK TO BASICS
As documented in this magazine's recent report on the fitness boom/bust (SI, Feb. 7), U.S. schoolchildren are in generally poor physical condition. One explanation is that physical-education programs in the nation's schools tend to emphasize sports more than they do conditioning, an orientation that benefits gifted athletes to the detriment of the majority of children. What's clearly needed are phys ed programs that promote the fitness of all children.
A roundabout reminder of what such programs might accomplish came last week when the Denver-based Educational Commission of the States issued the latest in its federally financed biennial assessments of reading, mathematics and science among U.S. schoolchildren. As in physical education, there has been a wide gap in achievement in those three disciplines between the best and the poorest students, yet the commission's study shows that the gap has narrowed considerably, thanks to "back-to-basics" programs that have improved the performance of "low-achieving" youngsters. To be sure, another reason for the narrowing of the gap is that the emphasis on basics has meanwhile lowered the performance of the high achievers. But a similar back-to-basics movement in physical education wouldn't necessarily have such an unwanted result; at the same time that the average students would be benefiting, the better athletes would still be able to develop their full potential in varsity sports.
But putting phys ed on the right track requires full appreciation of its importance—something that continues to be lacking. The fact that the Educational Commission of the States' study doesn't extend to phys ed serves as a case in point. Indeed, there has been no federally funded standardized study of youth fitness since 1975. Lack of funds is generally given as the reason. The commission's latest assessment was underwritten by a $3.88 million Education Department grant, and commission spokesman Wayne Martin says that the department and other potential sources of funding have balked at financing studies of youth fitness. "It's a great idea, and we'd love to do it," Martin says. "But no one wants to pay for it."
NO ROOM IN CAMP
The U.S. Football League, which launches its inaugural season in two weeks—will football never get here?—has scored repeated publicity coups with the high draft selections its teams have signed, including Southern Mississippi's Reggie Collier (Birmingham Stallions), SMU's Craig James (Washington Federals), North Carolina's Kelvin Bryant (Philadelphia Stars), UCLA's Tom Ramsey (Los Angeles Express), and Ohio State's Tim Spencer and Grambling's Trumaine Johnson (both Chicago Blitz). The league has also earned high marks for a provision in its standard player contract that obligates teams to pay college tuition for players until they finish work toward their degrees. That benefit has had the desired effect of blunting criticism of the USFL for luring college players out of school during the middle of the academic year.
But the USFL has also suffered a black eye. After the league's founding last May, its teams busily stocked their rosters with free agents, most of whom signed non-guaranteed contracts in the expectation that they would at least get a chance to show their stuff in training camp. Considering the number of players signed on this basis—the Chicago Blitz have had 340 prospects under contract at one time or another—most of them obviously were playing a long shot. Still, few of the signees realized just how long the shot really was. In fact, many of them wound up being released by their teams before training camps began on Jan. 31.
The Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Editor Frank Dolson suggested last week that the wholesale release of players before training camp was attributable in part to "growing pains of a new, less-than-major league whose members weren't sure last summer how many players they would be able to sign." Dolson quoted Stars General Manager Carl Peterson as saying, "I don't think anybody anticipated we'd sign this many draft picks." Peterson also said, "I never promised them they would go to camp." As Dolson further reported, however, some of the free agents were bitter over the fact that they'd rearranged their work and study schedules and toiled to get into top physical shape only to get the ax from the Stars before training camp began.
One of the jilted players, former Gettysburg College Fullback Scott Dudak, was approached by the Stars, signed with them and was later asked to attend a mini-camp of another USFL team, the New Jersey Generals. "I never went, because I thought I was obligated to the Stars," Dudak said. Dudak's coach at Gettysburg, Barry Streeter, said, "The kid just graduated from college in the spring. He figures he's got a shot. He does nothing but work out. It doesn't seem fair to me. I know he's a Division III player, but if you don't want him, don't sign him. I feel bad for Scott as a person. I said to him, 'Shoot, you could've gotten a job, gotten a start on your career.' "
Another player cut by the Stars just before camp, former Penn Fullback Rick Beauvais, said he had been left with "an extremely sour taste about pro football." Last November Beauvais traveled from his Connecticut home to Philadelphia to take the necessary physical with the Stars. "I had to sign a waiver saying that if I got hurt, they weren't responsible," he said. "And I got no reimbursement for transportation. All I got was a T shirt."