There's bad news on the fitness front. A study cosponsored by the AAU and Nabisco Brands Inc. has determined that of four million U.S. boys and girls aged six through 17 tested during the 1983-84 school year, only 36% met standards deemed achievable by the "average healthy youngster." That represents a decline from the 43% who met such standards from 1979 through 1982. Meanwhile, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey of students from the fifth through 12th grades indicates that body-fat measurements are "significantly higher" among today's youths than those in the 1960s. The study finds that only about half of today's young people are getting "appropriate physical activity."
The two studies bear out SI's conclusion in a Feb. 7, 1983 story that the so-called fitness boom tends to be an adult, upper-middle-class phenomenon that largely bypasses children and certain other segments of the population. Both reports blame cutbacks in school phys ed programs for the kids' sorry state. Citing data showing that the average 15-year-old girl can run a mile faster than the average 17-year-old girl, Dr. Wynn F. Up-dyke, an Indiana University phys ed professor who supervised the AAU- Nabisco study, said, "What this means is that Americans are entering their adult years with a declining fitness profile." James G. Ross, project director of the Health and Human Services study, enumerated some of the effects of financial cutbacks in the schools: "Fifty percent of pre-high school children have physical activity two days a week or less, the gyms are crowded, and it's difficult to keep young teachers on the payroll." Health and Human Services secretary Margaret Heckler bleakly summed up the situation by warning that U.S. schoolchildren "are not achieving the lifetime fitness skills required to promote good health."
NO RESPECT FOR THEIR ELDERS
Could this be an example of declining fitness profile?" There was Mountain Brook High School ranked third in USA Today's listing of Alabama's top 10 schoolgirl cross-country teams. And there was Mountain Brook Junior High ranked second. But no, talent appears to be as important as fitness here. Mountain Brook's junior high schoolers—seventh through ninth graders—are simply so much better than most 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders that high school coaches no longer invite them to their meets.
"We ran one meet this year against eight of the top 10 high schools in the state," says the junior high coach, Greg Echols. "We wound up second, four points behind the winning team. Our girls finished 1-2-3-19-23. The high school coaches don't want us running in the varsity division anymore. Their girls get a little frustrated at being beat by junior high girls."
The most accomplished of Echols's harriers is Loren Mooney, who won't turn 13 until Nov. 15. A 5'5�", 100-pound eighth-grader, Loren has run a hilly two-mile course in 12:15 and on the track is well under five minutes in the 1,500. "She's the best in the state [in cross-country] by 15 seconds," Echols says. "She's pretty tough." The team has two other prodigies, sisters Helen and Joy Bloom, a ninth- and an eighth-grader, respectively. All of which leaves folks at Mountain Brook High with mixed feelings. Although they don't relish being upstaged by the local junior high schoolers, there's comfort to be derived from the knowledge that Loren, Helen and Joy will wind up running at the senior high school soon enough.
A LONG DAY
After his team lost to Chattanooga ( Tenn.) Central 35-34 in seven overtimes, the second-longest high school football game in history (the longest was Detroit Southeastern's eight-overtime 42-36 win over Detroit Northeastern in 1977), Knoxville West coach Bill Wilson tried to find a silver lining. Noting that the Rebels had a 1-9 record last season, Wilson said, "We're still losing, but it takes folks a hell of a lot longer to beat us." Alas, the silver lining had an unforeseen additional cloud. The game lasted so long—three hours and 19 minutes—that burglars had enough time to sneak into the West locker room and make off with money belonging to seven players.
TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE