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Sports Group Promotes In-Line Skating for School PE Programs

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Pass by any playground, vacant parking lot, or residential side street these days and you're apt to spot kids whizzing by on in-line skates.

Now, one of the most popular sports to come along in recent years is also gaining a foothold in physical education programs in schools. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education has joined with Minneapolis-based Rollerblade Inc. to promote the activity in a school setting.

"Helping physical education programs across the country provide safe, educationally sound, and affordable in-line skating opportunities is the primary goal," said Judith C. Young, the executive director of NASPE in Reston, Va.

The Skate In School program offers lesson plans and equipment packages that include a pair of skates, a helmet, elbow and knee pads, and wrist guards. Each package will cost about $100.

"One hundred dollars a package is not much more than what you pay for other kinds of [sporting] equipment," said Maurita Robarge, a professor of physical exercise and sport science at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse who trains teachers in how to skate and how to teach skating.

The advantages, she said, far outweigh the cost, especially in a nation whose sedentary ways have produced too many overweight and unfit youths. "It's a wonderful activity for the cardiovascular system and for burning calories," Ms. Robarge said.

NASPE estimates that 21 million people have taken up the sport since in-line skates first hit the market in 1980. Two-thirds of such skaters are in the 5- to 17-year-old age range.

The sport isn't without its risks. Last year, in-line skates accounted for 65,000 injuries among children younger than 15.

"What we're trying to do is be proactive," said Larry Kopf, a physical education teacher at Waunakee High School outside of Madison, Wis., which has added the sport to its curriculum. "The kids are going to be doing it anyway. At least this way, they can be exposed to the proper way."

Since Mr. Kopf started teaching such skating to juniors and seniors two years ago, there hasn't been a single injury other than a few scrapes and bruises, he said.

From 8 to 78

Dennis M. Kirschbaum, the executive director of the Public Risk Management Association in Arlington, Va., said he hasn't heard the concerns raised about in-line skating that he did about skateboarding a few years ago.

As long as schools promote the use of protective gear and educate students about safety, "I don't think it presents any more risk than other school programs," Mr. Kirschbaum said. "It's probably less risky than a lot of other sports, especially football, where the intent is to make contact with another person at high speeds."

Sharon Sterchy said she, too, hasn't had a serious injury among students since in-line skating became part of the physical education program in the 13 middle and high schools in the Aldine district in Texas in 1992.

Unlike with some of the more traditional physical education activities that students try to avoid at all costs, Aldine students actually enjoy skating, said Ms. Sterchy, the director of physical education and wellness for the 45,000-student district on the outskirts of Houston. "If you like to do it when you're 8, you'll probably like to do it when you're 58, 68, 78."

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