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Skating Through School

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Rollerblading, one of the most popular sports to come along in recent years, is gaining a foothold in physical education programs in the nation's schools. And now the National Association for Sport and Physical Education has joined with Minneapolis-based Rollerblade Inc. to promote the activity--formally referred to as in-line skating--in the school setting.

"Helping physical education programs across the country provide safe, educationally sound, and affordable in-line skating opportunities is the primary goal,'' says Judith Young, 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 costs about $100. "One hundred dollars is not much more than what you pay for other kinds of [sporting] equipment,'' notes Maurita Robarge, a professor of physical exercise and sport science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who trains teachers to skate and to teach skating.

The advantages, she says, 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,'' Robarge says.

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, rollerblading accounted for 65,000 injuries among children younger than 15. "What we're trying to do is be proactive,'' says 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.''

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,'' says Dennis Kirsch-baum, executive director of the Public Risk Management Association in Arlington, Va. "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, director of physical education and wellness for the 45,000-student Aldine school district on the outskirts of Houston, says no student has been seriously injured since in-line skating became part of the district's PE program in 1992.

Unlike some of the more traditional PE activities that students try to avoid at all costs, skating, Sterchy says, is something a wide range of Aldine students actually enjoy. "If you like to do it when you're 8,'' she says, "you'll probably like to do it when you're 58, 68, 78.''

--Karen Diegmueller

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