For the fifth straight year, groups of athletes, manufacturers, retailers and teachers took to Capitol Hill to try to convince legislators not only to increase support for physical education in schools, but also to keep it alive -- all in the name of better youth fitness and health.
"I think a day like this makes an impact on the members of Congress," Philippe Duleyrie, president of Polar Heart Rate Monitors, told SNEWSÂ®. "The whole event with the kids and the athletes helps to drive home the point that this issue is alive and that the $100 million for PEP is really nothing compared to the billions of dollars spent on health care for those that don't learn to be active when they are young."
In its fifth year, the Carol M. White Physical Education for Progress bill (commonly known as the PEP bill) is slated to be reduced next year and eliminated altogether in 2008 (See SNEWSÂ® story, April 8, 2005, "SGMA to march up Capitol Hill for annual P.E. Day"). The PEP Bill is the only federal program that supports the development and growth of physical education classes in U.S. schools and community-based organizations by providing equipment and teacher-training. Since 2001, nearly 500 grants have been given to communities for a total of more than $250 million.
Fitness is in the house
Of 155 participants at the fifth-annual P.E.4LIFE and SGMA lobbying event and the pre-event fund-raising dinner were a host of sporting goods companies such as Russell, Reebok and Nike, as well as fitness manufacturer representatives from Icon, Polar, Strive, Everlast, Echo Heart Rate Monitors, Cateye Gamebike and Sportwall.
"We are here to take a leadership position for the fitness industry in supporting the spirit of the PEP grant. We believe it is important for people to start young and develop a life-long habit of fitness," Colleen Logan, of Icon Health & Fitness, told SNEWSÂ®. "If you look at the new government food pyramid it includes physical activity so it makes sense for the government to fund physical education via PEP."
The $100 million promise was a main point hammered home during the pre-lobbying press conference, which was attended by members of PE4life, SGMA, officials, attendees and several of the athletes, including football Hall-of-Fame 49er quarterback Steve Young, NBA Hall-of Fame member Bill Russell, WNBA player Jennifer Azzi and NFL MVP Peyton Manning. President Bush has said he wants to reduce funding for the bill by $19 million -- from $74 million in Fiscal Year 2005 to $55 in Fiscal Year 2006 to nothing by Fiscal Year 2008. There had been a hope the funding would actually jump to $100 million in the coming year.
"The fulfillment of our $100 million promise is not too much to ask," Congressman Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, said with the Capitol Building as a backdrop during the press briefing held on the Cannon Office Building Terrace the first morning of the event. "Obesity health care expenditure is $75 billion and half of that is from taxpayers. The older we get, the harder it is to change habits."
Steve Young, former 49er great and Hall of Fame player, agreed that awareness of the PEP bill and the introduction of fitness to all kids is key for the future.
"We need to make physical education a priority," Young told SNEWSÂ®. "We need to push the kids off the couch a little bit and not just the athletes, who will find their way onto the field. If a kid sits on the couch at 10 or 12 years old, there is a chance they'll be on the couch forever. Quality physical education programs can prevent that."
Stumping for attention -- and funds
SGMA President Tom Cove, ever enthusiastic, addressed the small gathering of press at the mornings kick-off conference, telling attendees the PEP bill is important not only for the businesses represented by his organization but for the health of the country. Cove was followed by a group of kids who were led through an example of the non-traditional PE class supported by the PEP bill and PE4life (www.pe4life.org), the non-profit group behind both PEP and National PE Day.
Following the press briefing small groups of highly motivated and enthusiastic lobbyists, including SNEWSÂ®, fanned out to various Capitol Hill buildings housing members of both the House of Representatives and Senate. The eager, amateur lobbyists had already attended a briefing session to learn the ins-and-outs of the process as well as background on the PEP bill. The lobbyists had more than 100 meetings in hallways and in over-crowded offices with aides and, in some cases, the members themselves reaching about 25 percent of Congress, according to SGMA's Mike May. Two of the key meetings were held with the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.
Members of the primarily state-specific groups, armed with graphs, charts, photos and talking points about the bill and PE4life supplied by the SGMA, raced from meeting to meeting, often times passing each other in the underground labyrinth snaking between buildings, and quickly updating each other on the events of the day.
"The PEP grants our school district have received have allowed us to do things in a few years that I had been slowly trying to implement over 17 years," Lisa Hacket, a physical education teacher from Kingston, N.Y., told one representative from her home state during a meeting SNEWSÂ® attended. "We have made a difference with our kids that would have been impossible without a program like this."
It was those personal success stories that seemed to make the most impact on legislators, something that didn't go unnoticed.
"It really is those true-life success stories that make the difference," Carl Ferraro, of Regent Sports Corp., told SNEWSÂ® while scurrying between lunch and meetings. "We really need to make a concerted effort next year to bring more educators out here to really drive the point home that this program is important and that it works."
For the most part, meetings attended by SNEWSÂ® were largely successful with all but one pledging support or continued support -- with the lone non-committal aide quite sure support for the bill was "not a problem."
That support, though, is not a guarantee of increased or continued financial support for the program, despite the apparent value.
"I am in strong favor of programs like phys ed, music programs, etc.," Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said during a crowded meeting with members of PE4life, SGMA and football star Tim Brown, among others. "All of these programs are vital to our children's' performance and health. But it is still hard to get these programs funded when we have all these tax cuts. We pay two-times the cost for health care in this country with half the results of other nations. The whole thing is so backward."
PE4life plans continued education
But despite the tough climate, PE4life is planning to continue the growth of its approach to physical education -- much of which is tied into the PEP grant.
PE4life, which currently operates three PE4life Institutes, announced plans during the National PE Day festivities to expand to eight institutes by August 2006 and to 50 (one in each state) by August 2011. PE4life Institutes take a "community-based" approach to physical education by providing training to school and community leaders for the purpose of assisting them in the development of PE4life Programs in their communities, according to the organization.
"The bad news is that our nation's kids are increasingly inactive and the childhood obesity epidemic is worsening. The good news is that the most cost-effective delivery system for addressing this problem is a quality, daily physical education program that reaches all children. That is exactly what the PE4life Institutes are all about," said Anne Flannery, PE4life president and CEO. "The PE4life model -- based on evidence-based solutions and proven delivery systems -- is to train teams of educators and community leaders how to develop PE4life Programs that get kids active now while educating them about the lifetime benefits of health and wellness.
But lobbying for the future wasn't all on tap for the event. The first night was spent not only looking forward but looking back during a $200 a plate dinner and awards ceremony hosted by ESPN personality Trey Wingo. Money raised from the dinner and a separate silent auction is used to fund the PE4life Institutes, according to the organization.Â
The well-attended dinner and silent auction saw awards presented to Rep. John Peterson, R-Penn., for legislator of the year; Nancy Duncan, an elementary school teacher from Ft. Worth, Texas, was honored with the My Favorite Teacher Award (the award was presented by Bailee Logue, the fourth-grade student who nominated her); Jean Blaydes-Madigan for The Excellence in Advocacy award for extensive work linking movement and learning; and Jamba Juice for being a "Hero of the Movement Award," which is given to a company that shows extraordinary commitment in supporting the PE4life mission.
SNEWSÂ® View: While it is heartening to see a smattering of fitness manufacturers attending alongside sporting goods company representatives, it would be nice to see more participation by pure fitness players -- certainly manufacturers but not exclusively. We'd like to see specialty dealers, health club executives, fitness celebs and others that are interested in not only helping their industry, but also helping to improve the health, wellness and education of future generations as well as their businesses. It's a win-win scenario. If you missed this lobbying event, there is the first-ever fitness-specific one by SGMA, now scheduled for Sept. 20-21. SNEWÂ® will keep you posted. The investment of your time is worth the effort.