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P.E. requirement promotes wellness, education

Julie Bender | Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Upon high school graduation, many students breathe a sigh of relief that their days of dodge ball, mat ball and four square are behind them. No more smelly locker rooms, teachers blowing whistles or misdirected balls whizzing through the air.However, for the freshman coming to Notre Dame, the threat of one more year of physical education still looms. Although this could be a nightmare for anyone who has ever had the surface of a basketball imprinted onto his or her forehead, most students find the P.E. requirement to be a fun, if not rewarding, addition to their education.”Notre Dame values the education of the total student,” said Tom Kelly, chairman of the physical education department at Notre Dame. “As our mission statement said, we believe in educating the whole person: mind, body and spirit.”Students are required to take six rotations of physical education classes throughout their freshman year, the only exception being for ROTC students and athletes. However, athletes are required to complete the two rotations of contemporary topics. Although P.E. is mandatory for first-year students, if openings in the classes remain, upperclassmen may participate as well. “Not many people realize that physical education is open to all students, not just freshman. No one is excluded from taking these classes,” Kelly said. For those taking the P.E. rotations, the physical aspect of education comes in two tracks at Notre Dame – wellness education and lifetime sports education. “The wellness track of the course includes the contemporary topics requirement and education in fitness and weight training,” Kelly said. “The lifetime sports track focuses on activities like golf, racquet ball, skating and dance; things people learn in order to stay fit their whole lives.”Staying fit for life is a major theme of the physical education program, which seeks to educate students in sports and activities they otherwise might not have had the opportunity to learn. “We view P.E. at Notre Dame as deficiency education,” Kelly said. “We want to offer students opportunities to learn and participate in activities that are new to them. You’ll notice we don’t offer classes in sports like softball or basketball here. We figure most students already know the basics of those sports, so we try to offer some new experiences for them.”Such new experiences include classes in fencing, self-defense, social dance, ice-skating, handball and yoga, among others. Even skiing and snowboarding are offered, though with a fee for equipment and transportation to the Swiss Valley Ski Area in Michigan. Most students viewed Notre Dame’s physical education classes positively.”I really like the requirement,” said freshman Jenny Korzan, who is currently taking a class on fitness development. “It teaches us to integrate exercise into our daily schedules. If we make exercise and health a priority now, we’ll be more likely to stick with it later on in life.””I think P.E. is awesome. You get to learn sports, meet people and stay active. Most Notre Dame kids were really active with sports in high school, and then they come to ND with dining halls, Sbarro, Burger King and Reckers, so it’s good to get into good habits starting freshman year,” said Josh Raycroft, a freshman from Alumni Hall.Raycroft, who has taken handball, fencing, self-defense and golf, added that many of his friends at other schools thought Notre Dame’s P.E. requirement was strange at first. “They thought the fact that I had to take gym was weird, but I think they realize now that it’s actually pretty valuable,” Raycroft said. Although physical education has long been a tradition at Notre Dame, it’s not unique to the University. Many other schools have a commitment to health education as well. “Notre Dame compares with many other elite universities with our P.E. requirement,” Kelly said. “We have done some extensive research on physical education at universities throughout the country and found that many comparable institutions, like Dartmouth and Columbia, for example, offer P.E. either as a requirement or as an elective.”In addition to the research on physical education at other schools, Notre Dame’s P.E. department also studies student response to its own programs. “We conduct student reviews and surveys on a regular basis in order to improve our program by finding out what courses students find valuable and what should be improved,” Kelly said. Interestingly enough, the most valuable class listed was swimming. “When we ask our students at Notre Dame how they feel about the swimming course required for beginning swimmers, we find that just about all of them say they are happy to have taken the class,” said Kelly. “It improves their confidence in the water, and without the University’s requirement, they may have never learned how to swim. Some students even seek further lessons to improve their skills beyond the basics.” Beth Kuberka, a senior, was required to take swimming her freshman year. “I’m so glad I had to take swimming. I never would have learned to swim if it hadn’t been required,” she said. “Now I can actually enjoy swimming instead of clinging to the side of the pool.”Adding to the value of the swim lessons, Kuberka said the social aspect of the class was also beneficial. “I loved my swimming class,” she said. Maybe it was our bonding over the embarrassment of being clad in swimsuits together, but I’ve stayed friends with a lot of the people who were in my class freshman year.”