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Last month a Michigan housewife and mother of three presented some personal and pertinent comments on the conduct of physical fitness programs in the U.S. (SI, Nov. 12). Mrs. Richard J. Ross called for a less competitive attitude in childhood athletics, for more acceptance—and more teams—for the "rejects." "Remove the shame of mediocrity from sports," Mrs. Ross claimed, "and you will have more takers. We make room for the 'average' in every other field, but we can't tolerate mediocrity in athletics." This week Sports Illustrated continues the Fitness Forum with an opposing argument, strongly in favor of competition—in sports and in every other walk of life. Mrs. Don Van Rossen, wife of the University of Oregon swimming coach, a former physical education teacher herself, and also a mother of three (boys aged 6, 8, and 11), challenges the parents to build up" the athletic programs—and their own children.
Dear Mrs. Ross:
First of all, to state that our society makes room for mediocrity in every field but sports is naive. How many frustrated musicians no longer pick up their instruments? How many would-be artists lock themselves up in attics to escape ridicule? How many budding chemists are made to feel like failures when they accidentally cause an explosion in the basement and are forbidden to continue experimenting?
I believe more mediocre people take part in sports than in any other activity. Take a look at the statistics on the number of participants in bowling (30 million), tennis (7.5 million) and swimming (33 million), for example. Any duffer can go out on a tennis court and bat a few balls around and nobody will pay any attention. But just let a mediocre singer start practicing in front of an open window and see what happens.
Of course we can't all be champions. But neither can we all play in the Philharmonic.
Perhaps your criticism of the Little League is justified, to a point. But think of all the children who do benefit by this program. Should we deprive them, too? Wouldn't it be better to think in terms of the many more children, "rejects" like your son, who could also benefit by Little League if more fathers volunteered to coach the onslaught of kids that parents push out of the homes?
No, I do not believe that only the best should be allowed to play. But some children are born blessed with better coordination and athletic ability than others. Shouldn't they be given special attention—the same as the child with more academic ability, the child with more dramatic ability or the child with more musical ability?
The real question is how much of the responsibility for developing the below-average child and the gifted child falls on the school and the community and how much falls on the home. Since we can't push all of the responsibility onto the schools I believe it is mainly up to the parents.
If I feel that the music program offered in the school is insufficient to my child's ability, I see that he gets private lessons. If I am not satisfied with the reading progress my child is making at school, I help him at home. And if I am dissatisfied with the sports program offered in the community and at school, I plant more trees for him to climb, I put an old mattress in the basement where he can "wrestle" and where I can teach him to tumble. And I invite the neighbors' children in to learn and have fun, too.
Your criticism of the physical education profession is "unjust to the point of stupidity"—to quote a phrase from your letter. If a few more letters like yours get national publication there will be even fewer good teachers, because you have slammed the whole profession. It is easy to blame a child's nervous illness on an "overzealous" physical education teacher who is eager only to do his job: to see that all children participate.