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Sara Pauff: A case for cooler P.E. classes

When you’re still in school, there’s always one class in your daily schedule that you dread more than any other. When I was a freshman in high school, that class was physical education.

While I wasn’t exceptionally out of shape, I didn’t play any organized sports and wasn’t very coordinated. At worst, I was usually humiliated during classes where I had to lift weights, jump rope or play dodgeball. At best, I was bored, stuck playing tetherball and foursquare. I couldn’t seem to find any sport or activity that I enjoyed and spent a lot of time worrying about keeping up with the cooler, more athletic kids.

There’s no dodgeball involved, but when I read about a plan at Coker College in South Carolina to require all freshmen to take a fitness assessment, I couldn’t help but think of high school P.E. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed, tasks could include one mile run or walk, push-ups, sit-ups, curl-ups, trunk lifts and a measurement of each students’ body mass index.

According to the article, the assessment is part of the college’s efforts to encourage healthy habits among its students. But I think a required fitness assessment sounds more humiliating and patronizing than encouraging, especially for a college freshman who is already lost on a new campus and trying to make new friends.

A better step for any university would be to revamp the college meal plan to include more healthy options and fewer all-you-can-eat buffets, add more creative P.E. classes, like yoga and Zumba, and work on making the campus walkable. I might not have visited the gym very often in college, but I also didn’t have a car, so I walked or took the bus everywhere. I exercise more regularly now than I did then, but I think was in better shape as a college student because my main mode of transportation was my own two feet.

I still had to take another P.E. class in college, but luckily, there were no dodgeball games or fitness assessments involved. My university offered a lot of options, from walking (I’m not kidding) to ballroom dancing. I took self-defense. I was still uncoordinated and not very athletic, but there were others in the class gawkier than me and the instructor was patient with all of us. It ended up being fun stress-relief, because we got to beat up on foam pads for 45 minutes three times a week and learn cool useful skills, like how to blind an attacker with your car keys. I wasn’t humiliated and I wasn’t bored during any of the classes, because I was learning new things, rather than worrying over whether I’d be able to keep up with the rest of the class.

For extra credit at the end of the semester, we each had the option of learning how to flip over a fully-grown man. It was pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever done in a P.E. class. Beat that, dodgeball fanatics.