Crist: Give kids a sporting chance

The governor's initiative promotes nutrition and daily PE classes in elementary schools.

Published March 27, 2007

TAMPA - Gov. Charlie Crist's inner health nut was in high gear Monday when he bounced off a plane here at lunchtime.

He needed a pick-me-up, so he made a quick stop at Athenos on S Dale Mabry Highway, where he ordered a strawberry-banana smoothie.

"Real fruit," he later boasted to reporters.

Then he made a spontaneous detour to Legends Field, where he threw out the first ball at a New York Yankees spring training game.

"It happened to be a strike," he said. "By the grace of God alone."

Then, finally, came his news conference at the George M. Steinbrenner Boys and Girls Club about the importance of physical education classes in Florida schools - the actual reason for his Tampa visit.

Crist called for a return of daily PE classes, starting with elementary schools. He said he wants kids to experience the activities he remembers from his childhood physical education classes at Bay Vista Elementary in St. Petersburg.

"What state's prettier to enjoy the outdoors, to go kayaking, to jog, to swim?" said Crist, a self-professed fitness addict whose regimen includes 20 laps in a pool every morning before dawn.

Crist said he is creating the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness. He enlisted Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks to chair the group, which will try to reduce the number of Floridians with chronic problems related to obesity.

Change won't come overnight. In Hillsborough, elementary school students take PE twice a week. In middle school, it's an elective. High schoolers need a single credit in fitness and health.

District physical education supervisor Steve Vanoer is eager to do more. But he worries about having to double or triple the size of PE classes if he can't afford more teachers.

Crist has proposed spending $1.2-million next year to promote health and nutrition. He isn't interested in hearing excuses about money.

"It's nominal," he said of the expense. "How much is it costing us, and more importantly our young people, not to be encouraging them?"

On the Web

Learn about Gov. Crist's initiative at www.healthyfloridians.com.