PE's Unlikely Champion...


Why am I interested in improving physical education?  Two main reasons.  The first is professional.  I am very aware of the need for excellent, daily, active, fun PE and the long way we have to go to get there.  The second is personal, and that’s what I want to write about today. As a kid growing up in the 1950s and 1960s I enjoyed many of my PE experiences, but I also experienced just about every kind of “PE malpractice” you can think of.  I was often picked last for teams, running and pushups were used as punishment, we seemed to play dodge ball mainly to amuse PE teachers’ twisted sense of humor, and I spent countless hours “playing right field” but mainly looking for 4-leaf clovers.  In junior high and high school we played the same team sports each year, but I never really learned how to play them better.  I don’t remember doing any particular skill, exercise, or activity frequently enough to improve.  When we were active I had fun, and it was great being outside to escape classroom boredom, but I didn’t understand the point of it.

When I understood the important role PE COULD play in getting children active and prepared for a lifetime of activity, I also became motivated to help kids avoid my negative experiences.  I have learned from Thom McKenzie, Paul Rosengard, and other visionaries and dedicated teachers and researchers that PE can be active, educational, and fun.

When we designed the original SPARK study, our goal was to create and evaluate a program that could be a model of health-related PE used around the country.  Happily, that has come to pass in many ways.  The SPARK story, going from a modest research project to a program improving the lives of more than 1 million children per day, has certainly been my most gratifying professional experience.  I am grateful to the people who have worked at SPARK and the many around the nation who have adopted and implemented the program for all these years.  I am humbled to have played a role in this wonderful program that so many children learn from, benefit from, and enjoy every day.  It has been a long way from my inauspicious start in PE.

Jim Sallis