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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have taught physical education in the elementary grades and middle school, and I'm presently teaching grades 9 through 12 at La Quinta High School in La Quinta, Calif. I was both saddened and furious when I read the letter by the 10-year-old student who hates going to P.E. because he or she is always chosen last.

Unfortunately, this happens in many P.E. programs around the country, and there is no one to blame but the teacher. Not only does it humiliate a student, it also wastes quality teaching time. The people who are cutting our physical education programs today are probably the same students who were chosen last in their P.E. classes.

One of the most important organizations we as professional physical educators need to be members of is COPEC (Council on Physical Education for Children). In 1992, COPEC listed examples of inappropriate activities in physical education classes:

"Forming teams: Teams are formed by designated 'captains' who publicly select one child at a time, thereby exposing lower-skilled students to peer ridicule. ... It is a process that can either expedite the activity process, or belittle students and become a risk factor for future involvement."

Following is a list of strategies that are quick and nonthreatening, taken from the Success Oriented P.E. Activities book:

1. Instructor equitably preselects teams

2. Clothing colors or colored strips of paper

3. Birthday months, or birthdays (odd and even)

4. Alphabetical (first or last names)

5. Sizes of tennis shoes

6. Squads or roll groups

7. Freeze game (position on the floor)

8. Draw cards from a deck (odd and even, or suits)

Abby, I hope you will print this because there is no accountability in our programs, and this shouldn't be happening in physical education or within the school system. People need to know there are other ways to divide students into teams that leave everyone feeling good about themselves and about physical activity. It is our duty as physical educators to provide a safe and positive environment for the lives we touch daily. Our students are our future. -- JOANN MONACHELLO PRAHL, LA QUINTA, CALIF.

DEAR JOANN: Thank you for the excellent suggestions. I hope P.E. teachers everywhere will take them to heart and put them into practice.

DEAR READERS: Today marks the birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who inspired so many to reach upward for equality. It is only fitting that I share with you a passage from his "Strength to Love":

"Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction ... The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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