WASHINGTON DC—Physical education in schools was so clichéd throughout the 1970’s and 80’s that you can still picture games of dodge ball or the tiny shorts that used to be the required uniform for PE class.
Today, it’s a whole new game and that is by design.
In February, DC Public Schools athletics department leaders invited a pair of groups to Jefferson Middle School to help launch a new wrestling program for middle school students.
Wrestle Like a Girl, based in Colorado Springs, Co., and Beat the Streets based in New York City are two organizations that can draw on dozens of years of wrestling experience and boast world-champion athletes.
“I'm a three-time world champion in women's wrestling Olympic-style wrestling; I'm an Olympian,” said Adeline Gray, who helped lead the tutorial. “I went to Rio this past summer; I took seventh at the Olympics. I'm a five-time medalist on the world stage, so I have a lot of credentials.”
“This is amazing,” said Diana Parente, Executive Director of the DC Interscholastic Athletic Association for DCPS. “This is the reason why we do the job, to see kids out every day playing the sports they love.”
Parente admits that kids may not know they love wrestling until they try it but she wants to give DC school children more options when it comes to earning PE credit so they’re more likely to get into a sport during adolescence.
“They're middle school kids I just think it's important to expose kids to different sports-- all different kinds of sports-- because the reality is kids who participate in sports do better in life so I want to make sure our kids have the best chance in life,” said Parente.
Other unique options now available to DC school children include archery, cycling, golf, swimming and fly fishing.
The school district is also encouraging middle schoolers students to participate in traditional sports like baseball and softball through the schools as opposed to waiting until they are in high school to offer the sports.
A separate program within the district offers bike lessons for all second graders.
In 2010, DC launched the Health Schools Act which was intended to give kids more PE time in elementary (45 minutes per week) and middle schools (a year-round course) to help fight the obesity epidemic. A study released earlier this year found those mandates have not followed but Parente believes offering unique options can inspire more kids to participate in physical activities.
In the case of at least one sixth grader it seems to be working.
“When I heard this school was getting a wrestling team I was actually the first one to get a permission slip,” said Kentre Valentine, a Jefferson Middle School student. “I went home did my homework and instantly asked my mom could she sign it?”
Valentine just learned the basics from the Olympic and world-class athletes in February but seems on the fast track to a fine middle school and high school career in wrestling.
“If we were on the mat I'd got for your legs and try and slam you,” said Valentine.
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