The future of physical education could include a tennis racket and a makeshift net — weapons teachers hope will successfully combat the inactivity that leads to obesity.
The Mesa Unified School District joined a physical education expert and the United States Tennis Association on Tuesday to train educators and send them out as advocates for tennis.
Forty PE teachers and tennis experts from every region of the nation met at Mesa’s Whitman Elementary School to learn a new curriculum created by nationally regarded Arizona State University professor emeritus Bob Pangrazi. His wife, Deb, is director of elementary education in the Mesa district.
"This is it. Our country needs you," said Mike Van Zutphen, a master USTA tennis pro at the Mesa Country Club, who spoke to the group. "You’re going to make it happen."
The plan is to teach tennis as a skill that can be used at any age — and in such a way that kids, no matter how talented, find it fun and seek it out. The curriculum explains how teachers can use the equipment they have now and teach a safe version of tennis that uses a soft ball for younger grades and gets kids excited about wanting to pursue a lifelong activity.
Mesa, a district often looked at for innovative physical education ideas, is leading a drive to encourage tennis as an activity taught in schools throughout the nation.
This year, tennis is being taught in every Mesa school. The tennis association joined with Wilson Tennis to provide free rackets to the district for offering a tennis curriculum, and plans to do the same for other districts statewide.
Teaching slowly, introducing the skills, for instance, by hitting balls back and forth over a folded mat can make kids excited for more, Bob Pangrazi said.
"We’re less concerned about making great tennis players out of them," he said. "Tennis is so available to adults and it’s an activity you can play until you’re virtually too old to move."