A League of Fans Special Feature
Brenda VanLengen is Vice Chair of PE4life, a non-profit whose mission is to increase the amount of quality physical education in schools across the nation. From 2001-2010, VanLengen served as second in command for PE4life, including in her role as Chief Design Officer. In addition to her duties with PE4life, VanLengen is also a well-traveled sports broadcaster and co-hosts a national talk show on women’s sports.
Ken Reed, League of Fans’ sports policy director, recently interviewed Van Lengen.
Ken Reed: Why was PE4life started?
Brenda VanLengen: Jim Baugh, the president and CEO of Wilson Sporting Goods at the time, spearheaded the development of PE4life. He had discovered that the number of kids participating in sports was dropping, and physical education programs in schools were being cut. He knew the importance of quality daily PE classes for the overall wellbeing of children and wanted to start a grassroots initiative to get quality daily physical education in all of our schools. In working with the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, Baugh formed PE4life in 2000.
Reed: Why are you so passionate about getting quality fitness-based PE in every school?
VanLengen: Today’s kids have a shorter life expectancy than their parents due to sedentary lifestyles. We have to get our kids developing healthy active habits for a lifetime. If each school would incorporate quality fitness-based PE programs – ideally daily, but at least three days a week – we would have healthier kids, academic performance would go up, and behavioral problems would drop. The research has consistently proven this.
Reed: Kids sitting at desks all day, listening to an adult lecture to them, is probably the worst way to educate young people. How do you think we can change the typical school culture on a national basis?
VanLengen: Schools need to incorporate the physical education professional in academic planning sessions. We have too many school administrators who still look at PE teachers as nothing more than coaches or jocks and don’t equate them with the academic side. Schools that incorporate physical education professionals on the academic side and allow them to help the entire school implement “brain breaks” and other physical fitness activities throughout the day — in addition to a strong physical education program – will have students that are more ready to learn. When children are physically active they simply are more ready to learn in the classroom.
The PE professional has much to contribute to the physical, academic and behavioral health within the school. PE professionals know how to get kids physically active in a safe way.
Once school administrators, superintendents, and school board members start valuing physical education and physical activity as learning readiness tools our school cultures will change in a positive way.
Reed: It’s mind-boggling that at a time when overweight and obesity levels are up among young people in most communities, and physical activity levels are down, our schools continue to cut physical education classes, recess time, and intramural sports programs. Do you think the No Child Left Behind legislation and the focus on standardized test scores is the primary reason?
VanLengen: Overall, I don’t think there’s any doubt that schools are feeling pressure from No Child Left Behind and standardized tests. In response, they are doing things like dropping PE classes in order to create more time in the classroom. Instead, they should be getting kids more ready to learn through more quality physical education and physical activity during the school day. Based on the research, their current approach is misguided.
Reed: Technology (computers, video games, smart phones, etc.) has had the unwelcome side effect of making our children less physically active than at any other time in our history. When you add in parental safety concerns about kids walking or biking to school, and schools dropping PE classes, recess, and intramural sports options, you’re left with a situation that some have described as a physical inactivity epidemic. Do you believe we’re at a crisis stage?
VanLengen: As a nation, we’re definitely in a crisis stage. Our lifestyles, including those of our children, are more sedentary today because of all the conveniences we have. It’s a critical situation because of all the health problems this young generation will face if things don’t change.
With the drop in physical education classes around the country today, fewer young children are being exposed to what an active lifestyle is. Think about the challenge today’s young people might face when they turn 35 and their doctors tell them they need to get active … Without an active PE or sports background, and knowledge of the value of being physically active – which you get in PE classes, it will be tough for them to change from their sedentary lifestyles.
Getting quality physical education programs in our schools is extremely important due to the health problems this generation is staring at.
Reed: Tell me about PE4life’s impact on this issue …
VanLengen: We’ve had success working both from the top down and the bottom up. Due to our efforts in Washington D.C., we were the driving force behind the federal PEP grant program which helps fund recipients’ PE programs across the nation. We also have developed PE4life implementation workshops that help teachers, administrators, school board members, and others from the local community, put high quality PE4life programs in place, while making the needed cultural changes to sustain success.
We also help educators make technology part of the solution instead of part of the problem. We help PE teachers incorporate technology like heart rate monitors and exergaming equipment in their programs. When you incorporate things like heart rate monitors and exergaming, and you personalize fitness programs for students, PE becomes something all kids can relate to, not just the athletically-inclined.
Reed: What do you think about PE and intramural sports programs being cut while schools continue to fund varsity athletics programs that only serve a relatively small portion of the student body?
VanLengen: One of PE4life’s core principles is that PE programs offer a variety of fitness, sport, leisure, and adventure activities to all students. This is critical in order to introduce all students – not just the athletically-inclined – to the concepts and benefits of physical activity. Exposing students to a variety of activities increases the chances that they will find an activity that appeals to them, and that they will engage in for lifelong fitness. Cutting PE to fund varsity athletics programs for the athletically-inclined would be akin to only providing core academic courses (mathematics, science, etc.) to the intellectually-gifted.
Reed: Do you think we need federal legislation requiring daily fitness-based PE in all public schools, K-12? If so, do you think federal legislation is feasible?
VanLengen: Federal legislation may be helpful, but it won’t be seen as effective without accompanying authority, funding, and support. Many states already have legislation regarding PE, but don’t provide the supportive environment that is critically needed in order for that legislation to have an impact. There are a few key issues we’re facing in the legislation area, primarily at the state level. For example:
1) States present PE legislation as guidelines or standards rather than requirements.
2) States don’t allocate funding to support the legislation.
3) States have only minimal PE requirements, especially at the secondary level (e.g., one PE credit over four years of high school).
4) States allow waivers that excuse students from PE, such as for extracurricular activities (band, ROTC, etc.), participation on athletic teams, or merely by a parent signing a document stating that they will ensure that the student gets adequate physical activity outside of school. None of these replace the knowledge and influence that a comprehensive, fitness-based PE program can provide.
5) Schools are allowed to bump PE whenever time is needed for other activities, without requiring that the time be made up.
Reed: What’s the vision moving forward for PE4life?
VanLengen: In concert with other organizations having complementary missions, we see PE4life continuing the fight for saving and enhancing physical education in the United States, and we advocate for states, school districts, and communities to provide the legislation, funding, and support to achieve this mission.Print
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Terri Lakowski
29 Apr 2014
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Jim Baugh
16 Jan 2014
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Brian Kitts
12 Nov 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Paul Busch
9 Oct 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Chuck Wilson
17 Sep 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Tom McMillen
5 Aug 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Sab Singh
13 Jun 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Joseph Siprut
11 Apr 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Fred Bowen
20 Feb 2013
Q & A with Legendary Sportswriter Frank Deford
27 Jan 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Brenda VanLengen
28 Dec 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Diana Cutaia
1 Nov 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Patrick Hruby
28 Sep 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Allen Sack
8 Aug 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Donna Lopiano
5 Jun 2012
Q’s & A’s with Jim Thompson
14 May 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Activists: Dave Zirin
18 Apr 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Activists: William Dowling
27 Mar 2012
Q’s & A’s with Notable Sports Figures: Taylor Branch
9 Mar 2012
Q’s & A’s with Notable Sports Figures – Joe Nocera
27 Feb 2012
- Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Terri Lakowski
Special FeaturesFrom League of Fans
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to encourage social & civic responsibility in sports industry & culture. See League of Fans Core Principles
Petition from Baseball Fans Everywhere To Mariano Rivera
April 6, 2013League of Fans Calls for More Humanistic Coaching Programs. Click here to see the release.
League of Fans Announces 2012 “Sport At Its Best” Awards
December 20, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on Ralph Nader's Call for Budding Sports Reformers
December 7, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on Ralph Nader's Claim that Sports Media Are Dropping the Ball on Social, Cultural, and Economic Issues in Sports
November 22, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to Make the NCAA Live Up to Its Stated Purpose
October 26, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to create a National Sports Commission
October 11, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to Ensure Equal Opportunity in Sports for all Americans
September 21, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on putting the "Youth" back into "Youth Sports"
September 8, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to abolish the BCS and Establish a College Football Playoff
August 25, 2011
Read the news release and report on Mandatory Implementation of King-Devick Concussion Test in High School and Youth Sports
August 11, 2011
Click here to read the report and news release and about the campaign to promote sports and physical education for all students
Read the news release and report on Campaign to Promote Humanistic Coaching Education Programs
July 13, 2011
Read the news release and report on the Push For Community Ownership in Professional Sports
June 24, 2011
Read the news release and report and Sports Manifesto on Re-Launch of League of Fans
March 24, 2011
NCAA's Reaction to League of Fans' Proposal
March 29, 2011
League of Fans' Response to NCAA
March 25, 2011
League of Fans Proposes Eliminating Athletic Scholarships to Help Restore Integrity on College Campuses
League of Fans is a project of the Center for Study of Responsive Law.