Children need P.E. to get fit. That was the basic message delivered by the membership of SGMA International to U. S. Senators and U. S. Congressmen in Washington, D.C. during the 5th Annual National P.E. Day. Two of the key meetings were held with the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

In addition to SGMA members, others in the lobbying delegation included celebrity athletes, supporters of PE4lifeâ, sporting good retailers, association leaders, health care professionals, and physical education teachers. The delegation of celebrity athletes included basketball legend Bill Russell, NFL Hall of Fame inductee Steve Young, ex-Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker and Tim Brown, father-son NFL quarterbacks Archie and Peyton Manning, Kentucky men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith, tennis champion Stan Smith, U. S. women’s soccer player Heather Mitts, former WNBA star Jennifer Azzi, and boxing trainer Teddy Atlas.

The focal point of the day was the Carol M. White Physical Education for Progress (PEP) Bill. The President wants to reduce funding for the bill by $19 million – from $74 million in Fiscal Year 2005 to $55 in Fiscal Year 2006. By Fiscal Year 2008, the President wants to completely eliminate the bill from the federal budget. 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. Since its inception in Fiscal Year 2001, nearly 500 grants have been given to communities totaling more than $250 million. The money has been spent to train P.E. teachers and purchase more equipment for P.E. classes.

The need for federal intervention in this matter has never been more urgent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the percentage of children ages 6 to 11 who are overweight has increased nearly 300% during the last 25 years. The figures for teenagers are very similar.

“If the PEP Bill gets reduced, that sends a message to schools that daily P.E. is not a big priority,” said SGMA President Tom Cove. “That’s a message we can’t afford to send.”

National P.E. Day began with a mid-morning news conference on Capitol Hill where the PEP Bill message was delivered to a group of reporters. The main speakers at the news conference were Cove, PE4life President Anne Flannery, Young, Azzi, and three members of the U.S House of Representatives – Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Ted Stickland (D-OH), and Rep. John Peterson (R-PA). They all emphasized the importance of the PEP bill in transforming the fitness levels of millions of American children.

“Cutting a proven program like PEP sends the worst possible message to students, teachers, parents, and heath care workers,” said Flannery.

“Children need a daily, quality PE experience in school,” said Young. “It helps improve the academic atmosphere.”

“If you don’t have your health, you have nothing,” said Azzi.

“Schools are a natural place to create an environment for physical fitness,” emphasized Rep. Granger.

“Federal funding is a necessity for our children’s physical fitness,” noted Rep. Strickland.

“All young people should have physical education each day in school,” stated Rep. Peterson.

By day’s end, the group of sports industry professionals conducted more than 100 Congressional meetings on Capitol Hill. In each meeting, the message was clear and succinct: daily, quality PE is important and there’s a need for continued and enhanced funding of the PEP grant program.

When asked why they gave their time to travel to our nation’s capital to lobby for the PEP Bill, SGMA members were in universal agreement. “For me, it’s a matter of giving back to this industry,” said Franklin Sports President Larry Franklin. “It’s important to spend time promoting the importance of greater participation in sports.”

“It’s a priority for me to be here to support such an critical piece of legislation,” said Polar Electro President Philippe Duleyrie. “The PEP Bill helps deliver healthy kids who grow up to be healthy adults.”

“We believe in the concept of a healthy mind and a healthy body,” said Sportwall International President John Urmston. “We have a responsibility to our children to support the PEP Bill.”