Lobby for PE attracts crowd, but few fitness reps

Lobbying on Capitol Hill last week brought out 87 advocates for school physical education, including sporting goods executives, management from full-line retailers and celebrity athletes, but only a trickle of fitness industry representatives.
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Lobbying on Capitol Hill last week brought out 87 advocates for school physical education, including sporting goods executives, management from full-line retailers and celebrity athletes, but only a trickle of fitness industry representatives.

Nevertheless, a full day of talking to legislators in an effort organized by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association should have an effect on the final federal budget allotted to the so-called PEP bill -- also known as “Physical Education for Progress” -- according to Tom Cove, SGMA vice president, government relations.

“This lobbying is tremendously helpful,” Cove told SNEWS. “It's real when we can get (legislators) to say, ‘Yes, I'll call the chairperson of a committee' to advocate for a bill. This is all behind-the-scenes, but very valuable.”

PEP grants help schools and community groups nationwide train PE teachers and buy equipment that enables them to implement fitness and training programs that go beyond the team sports of yore. The grants allow recipients to buy fitness equipment, teach group exercise classes, put in rock-climbing walls, use heart-rate monitors, or take students on field trips to experience skiing, hiking or other recreational pursuits that could turn them into healthier kids and therefore healthier adults.

This is the fourth year of the PEP legislation, and lobbyists at this year's SGMA effort on April 30 divided into groups to have meetings with legislators and their representatives to explain the importance of not only continuing funding, but also increasing it -- they are asking for $100 million in the next round, a figure Cove admits is “ambitious” with all the interest in war and anti-terrorism campaigns. This year, Congress allocated $59 million, which will result in about 200 grants. In 2002, PEP had $50 million and gave out 176 grants. The first year, PEP had only $5 million.

Attendees last week included sporting goods executives such as Carol Mabe of Russell Corp.; Jim Baugh, then president of Wilson Sporting Goods and founder of PEP advocate group PE4Life; and others from the likes of Nike, Reebok and Gatorade. Retail executives included Marty Hanaka of The Sports Authority and Bob Mang of Galyan's. Fitness representatives? Paul Byrne, Precor president, and Randy Bergstedt, Star Trac director of marketing, who made a brief appearance but had other appointments and left before much lobbying began.

Cove said the real impact came from the 10 celebrity athletes and sports names that attended, including track world-record-holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee, soccer star Mia Hamm, Payton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts, and even Tori Allen, X-Games star and rock climber.

“This was a nice package,” Cove said. “You have PE teachers, and then you have sports executives and athletes. You put all these together and it's a nice package” for legislators.

PEP, with the tagline “Active Body, Active Mind,” is supported by the non-profit group, PE4Life, which was formed to promote and to expand quality physical education programs. For more information, go to www.pe4life.org.

SNEWS View: PE may seem to some as a stretch in terms of a cause that the fitness industry -- or for that matter the outdoor industry -- should support. Oh, so wrong. Any industry that wants adults to do active things -- join health clubs, run races, go skiing, take backpack trips, even ride a bike -- should take a closer look at school physical education programs and other organized recreation programs for kids. Everyone knows that an active and fit kid is more likely to turn into an active and fit adult. And that means more adults participating in your industry of choice, but also less of a toll on everybody's health-care budgets. With the rise in obesity and obesity-related diseases, everybody is worried about the health of the country. No matter what your cause, everybody can probably agree that activity, in some degree, is at least part of the answer.

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