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Efforts To Boost Girls' Participation in Sports Urged

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Washington

Schools and communities need to do more to encourage the active participation of girls in sports and physical-fitness programs, participants at a conference here have urged.

The theme of the conference, sponsored by the Women's Sports Foundation, was "The Next Generation: Designing the Future of Sports and Fitness for Our Daughters.''

The three-day event this month focused on the critical sports and fitness issues facing girls from early childhood through age 19.

The keynote speaker at the gathering of athletes and educators was Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who argued that comprehensive health and physical-education programs in the schools would go a long way toward combating the health and social ills that threaten many children and adolescents.

"We have got to use the schools to teach more than the three R's,'' said Dr. Elders. "You can't teach the three R's to someone who is not psychologically, emotionally, and physically fit.''

Dr. Elders and others cited research that indicates that girls who participate in sports are far more likely to stay in school and avoid destructive behavior than those who do not.

Girls who take part in competitive sports are 80 percent less likely to have an unwanted pregnancy, Dr. Elders noted, and 92 percent less likely to get involved with drugs. They are also three times more likely to graduate from high school.

Moreover, she said, student-athletes are less inclined than non-athletes to smoke.

Given those findings, Dr. Elders asked what further inducements schools and communities needed to make athletic opportunities available to young women.

"There's not much in our society that works 92 percent of the time,'' she said, referring to the findings on drug use.

But the surgeon general lamented that athletics often are among the first programs schools cut when they face financial strains.

"We've got to start early,'' she said. "We've got to have health and physical education in our schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.''

'Horrible Experiences'

The audience also heard from high school girls about the obstacles they faced and the support they received as student-athletes.

Marcia Shannon Feaster, a 12th-grade student at the School Without Walls here and the captain of the U.S. Junior Olympic Racquetball Team, recounted what she described as "horribleexperiences'' playing on male-dominated teams.

Despite her athletic skills, she said, she often found herself sitting on the bench in some of the sports she played. When she did get a chance to play basketball, she recalled, "Guys wouldn't pass to me.''

Ms. Feaster said that she was made to feel that she was less skilled and capable than the boys solely on the basis of her gender, and that at times she even felt guilty for wanting to play.

A potentially talented athlete could have been shut down at the age of 13, she said, had it not been for the support of her family and some of her coaches.

She encouraged conference participants to become mentors to girls who might not have such a support system.

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