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But the heart and spirit of the conference was found in the animated knots of people passionately debating in the nine discussion groups, along the tree-lined paths on the beautiful academy grounds, and on a boat trip on the Severn River. Here people like Dr. Hans Kraus, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, Olympic diving champion Dr. Sammy Lee, ex-Olympic sculls champion John B. Kelly Sr. and Fitness Expert Bonnie Prudden hashed over ways to put physical activity back into the lives of children.
"This restriction of physical activity is a sociological problem," said Frick. "I was determined that whatever my kids did, they weren't going to have to weed onions or work on a farm like I did. It's pride."
"It's the parents' fault, they're adult delinquents," claimed John Kelly, father of Princess Grace. "Parents are to blame for not taking an interest in the sports performances of their kids. Every show Grace was in, I was there."
"Yes, they're lazy," agreed Frick. "Today a youngster will back out the car to go a few blocks to the store for five pounds of potatoes, then have them delivered or get an attendant to lift the bag into the car. The evil has been done. Even I can't do two of the Kraus-Weber tests, although at 60 I can still run a quarter mile in 1:02," he said, needling pretty Bonnie Prudden who, with Dr. Kraus, tested American and European children using the Kraus-Weber test (The Report that Shocked the President, SI, Aug. 15).
"As I see it," Miss Prudden said, grinning at him, "we frustrate activity in five different stages of life. The infant is just spontaneous combustion: we foil that by keeping him in playpens and strollers. The young child is full of imitating. We fix that by having no physical fitness worth imitating. The teens are interested in the opposite sex, but we don't take advantage of that, we separate the sexes in physical education classes. The young adult wants to look well. We negate that by designing clothes to hide the figure. Our last chance, with older adults who fear death, is ruined because many of our doctors say don't exercise after 40."
Said Dr. Kraus succinctly: "We live in a society without enough physical activity. Let's get it."
"But how?" protested Frick. "It's utterly ridiculous for me to say what should be done about fitness. Good heavens, I don't know!"
Strangely enough, it was this frank admission that all they knew was that U.S. kids needed more exercise to keep fit, coupled with a strong determination to find out how to make them so, which made this conference productive. Former conferences, more heavily larded with fitness experts, often bogged down because the authorities in the field were loth to admit that they had no standard of fitness on which they can agree. All the experts can say is that to be fit means to be able to carry on your daily life comfortably and have energy and strength left over for emergencies. This tells us little, because whose daily life are they talking about, and what is the minimum fitness everyone should have? One no-longer-svelte doctor complained that unless he maintained an apparent state of overweight and relative inactivity, he didn't feel well enough to do his work. So fitness for him apparently is not fitness for other people, or fitness by the generally accepted standard of proper weight and a trim figure. Even for a soldier, fitness is an unmeasurable thing, despite Selective Service Director Major General Lewis B. Hershey's definition that it is "the ability to do your job without tension." It is said that during World War II sailors who were fit for their shipboard jobs and knew how to swim, still weren't fit enough to keep from drowning, because they didn't have sufficient strength to push off and keep free of sinking craft.
How much muscular strength we need and other puzzlers were mulled over by the conferees. They asked themselves: should every American be able to run a quarter mile at a certain speed (allowing for differences in age and sex), even though the chances of his ever having to run this distance, or run at all, are one in several thousands? What does constitute a test of a person's physical fitness? For every test now in use, there is at least one expert who disapproves of using it. To discover a scientific standard for fitness is one of the headaches the new fitness council and citizens' committee will face.