The CHS football team practices.

Photo by Ellie Hoskins

Putting in the Sweat but Not Making the Grade

Why School Sports Don't Count for Physical Education Credit

October 29, 2018

Student athletes often question why they are required to complete two credits of physical education when they spend so much time and effort training and competing for their school team. Coaches, administrators, and students all gave their outlooks and answers to help understand why C.H.S. sports don’t count for physical education credit.

The current requirement for Virginia State schools is that students must graduate with two credits of health, drivers education, and physical education. The credit is intended to be combined to show the connections between health and fitness, but at C.H.S. it is set up by semester. Students complete two half credits of physical education and two half-credits of health and driver’s education, spread out over their four years at C.H.S. The curriculum for physical education involves introductions to many types of activities as well as physical fitness testing and SOLs. Students can complete this credit in-class or virtually, either during the school year or over the summer. Health classes have similar standards.

“Just like your math class is a credit you have to take to graduate, physical education, health, and drivers education are like that as well,” said Coach Rodney Redd, the head of the athletic department at C.H.S.

A major query for students, parents, teachers, and coaches is why public school sports don’t count for physical education credit. The answer to this is that the state law simply doesn’t allow it. Sports in public schools in all of Virginia are considered extra-curricular activities, and cannot be submitted as a credit for graduation. This law is statewide, and not just in Virginia, but in the majority of other states in the country.

“Although sports can in theory be complementary to the amount of physical activity, they just do not meet the State’s expectations of what students should be learning about a healthy lifestyle,” said Vanessa Wigand, the director of Physical Education and Health at the Virginia Department of Education.

However, in a handful of states such as Indiana, Texas, Iowa, and Arizona, laws do allow for public schools to give physical education credit to student athletes. These states came to the understanding that it’s not necessary to add to student’s workload a physical education class if they are already participating in a school sport. There is a requirement for a standard amount of time for each sport, and a physical fitness test at the end of each season to receive credit. Students must then complete separate, in-class credits for things such as health and driver’s education.

So, the answer to the question of why student athletes at C.H.S. aren’t exempt from physical education is because the state law simply says that sports cannot be part of the curriculum. But if it’s possible for some states to change that law, should Virginia, and the rest of the country, join them?

The curriculum of physical education classes aims to combine the aspects of fitness and the aspects of health. The objective of having the credits for physical education and health combined is so that students can see how physical fitness and physical health are connected. Physical education classes’ immediate goal is to get students healthy and to teach students about different exercises and activities. Matthew Wilson, one of the PE 9 teachers and the JV basketball coach for C.H.S., remarked that by having a physical education class, students can learn a variety of athletics that cannot be taught in sports.

Freshman P.E. students play floor hockey during early morning gym. Photo by Ellie Hoskins.

“You can tie the aspects of health and wellness into many different activities,” he said. “I view it as going to the buffet.”

Only a percentage of students continue with their high school sports into college, and even fewer professionally. Student athletes tend to only be trained in the skills that are necessary for their sport, and often that does not include all skills athletes need to know to be successful and to have healthy habits. Physical education and health classes’ long-term goal is to teach students life long lessons and skills that they can take into everyday life in the future. The Virginia Department of Education believes that sports simply do not offer the lesson of healthiness that the curriculums of physical education and health classes do.

Wigand, from VDOE, said “The goal of the state of Virginia is to promote physical health, social health, and mental health. The credits are combined to give students the opportunity to know how to be the best in all of those things. Coaches and sports simply cannot give students the all around knowledge they need to know to be successful in their future and understand how to continue to be overall healthy.”

“There’s a fine like between what you do in sports and what you do here in class. You just aren’t getting that same curriculum in sports,” said Mr. Wilson.

The goal of the state of Virginia is to promote physical health, social health, and mental health. ”

— Vanessa Wigand, VDOE

Students and coaches both reason that although physical education classes and their curriculum are beneficial to students who don’t have the opportunity to play sports, student athletes do not need the exercise and lessons offered in those classes, because the sports they are participating in require a much higher level of fitness.

“Students get twice as much exercise in one season out here on the field than two semesters in a gym class,” junior varsity field hockey coach Maddy Eure stated. “It’s so much more beneficial to students to be on a team than to be in class.”

“The entire idea of PE is to provide a time for students to get exercise and be healthy. But if you’re already playing a sport, you’re doing something so much more active than in class, and you’re getting really in shape,” said Zoe Cohn (9).

Ava Strock (11) said “We didn’t do anything productive or mandatory in gym class. I do so much more in sports than I ever did in PE.”

Although at C.H.S. it might work for sports to count for physical education credit, and health and drivers education classes to be taken separately, the state curriculum is meant for all of the credits to be combined into one class. This would make it difficult for student athletes to take driver’s education and to learn the necessary components of a health class if their sports were to count for credit. In theory, there might be way for coaches to incorporate overall personal health into the sport, but Coach Redd brought up that some of the hired coaches for public school sports are not certified teachers, which would make them ineligible to teach a curriculum like that.

Administrators also think that it would be difficult to find a way to accredit students for physical education by participating in a sport. Wigand said that physical fitness tests are not substantial enough, because a component of those tests are the student’s physical genetics – the ways in which they are built and how much they can endure physically – and they are not good measures to prove that a student benefited from participation in their sports.

“How do you measure whether or not the student should get credit for a sport? By whether or not their team is a winning team? There just isn’t a standard way to give credit,” said Wigand.

Coach Redd also thought that allowing students to count sports for physical education credit would introduce new complications for the school and for students. “For example, if students don’t complete a sports season due to other issues, the student would not longer have a way to get their credit,” he said. “I just don’t think it would work at the high school level.”

On the other hand, one of the largest arguments as to why sports should count for PE credit is because of the time commitment and effort that student athletes put into their sports. If sports were to count for a credit, it would acknowledge students for all of the effort they put towards something that can benefit the school, and it also allows for student athletes to have more time to focus towards school work or other activities.

“The biggest challenge for student athletes is time-management,” said varsity Field Hockey coach Lindsey Clark. “These student-athletes spend anywhere from two to seven hours a day participating in their sport, which leaves very little time to complete their work. I feel that there are more productive and better uses of student-athletes’ time instead of gym class.”

“When you’re taking time away from doing homework or other after school activities for a school sport, it should definitely count for credit,” agreed Lucas Fuller (9).

Some athletes and coaches contend that competitive sports are also incredibly tiring, due to the great amount of physical effort that students put into it. They believe that also having to put effort into gym classes isn’t at all beneficial to athletes, and just exhausts them more.

The other aspect to consider is whether or not allowing schools sports to count for physical education credits would be beneficial to the athletic department. If sports counted for credits, it’s possible that more students would be inclined to participate in sports. Whatever reasons that may be stopping someone from participating in sports might be surmountable if sports counted for a credit. For example, students who don’t have the time to participate in a sport might realize that without PE requirements, they have more time to get work done and then more time after school.

“There are several sports at Charlottesville High School that are experiencing low turnout, which is detrimental to any sports program. It is really difficult to have a successful program if there is low participation,” said Coach Clark. “On top of that, perhaps having credit might encourage players to participate in sports at a younger age and to seek out experience before coming to the high school teams.”

Gabby Raubenheimer, (10), does not currently play any sports for C.H.S.. “If sports counted for a credit, I think that I would definitely participate, and I think a lot of other students would consider it too,” she said.

Elana West-Smith, (11), thought that there is a social component to participation in sports. “Some people don’t do sports because they don’t think they’re cool enough or they don’t think they fit in with a team. But if sports were to count for a credit, people would have more of a reason to participate and wouldn’t consider as much what it means socially.”

Raising participation in sports would allow for students to understand the ideas of competition and of teamwork. Students would be engaged in the sport and would be working with their peers for a common goal.

Eden Block, a freshman at St. Anne’s Belfield, a private school in Charlottesville that doesn’t have to appeal to the state law, said that she enjoys the current physical education requirement of six sport seasons or classes before graduation because it’s convenient and it creates a community. “In each sport they teach you what it means to be on a team which I think is an important skill in life,” she said.

On the flip side, people argue that some students would only participate for the credit, and not be an asset to the team, but also possibly a weakness.

Coach Redd said, “I know, as a coach, I wouldn’t want someone coming out for my team just to try to fill a credit.”

Talia Marshall, (12)  saw both sides of it. “Allowing for sports to count for credit might bring people who only want that credit and could potentially be a detriment to the team. But it could also bring people who otherwise might not play a sport and find something new that they like.”

If allowing sports to count for credit would raise athletic participation, it’s likely that more focus would be put on the athletics department, which would be incredibly beneficial overall. Some sports might be taken more seriously if there is more participation, making the school athletics better, bringing in more money for the department and promoting healthier students.

“The athletic department at Charlottesville has a tight budget and any additional funding would be a huge help,” said Coach Clark.

Coaches believe that team sports are overall very valuable to students, regardless of the students participation in physical education. Sports teach students a number of important lessons, such as teamwork, competition, drive, discipline, success, and facing and overcoming challenges.

Coach Eric Sherry, the head coach for C.H.S. football agreed. “It is a uniquely positive experience challenging young athletes on not just their physical toughness but mental toughness as well. The camaraderie received from playing a team sport provides a great sense of accomplishment as well as developing excellent communication skills. It is beneficial to all involved.”

It is a uniquely positive experience challenging young athletes on not just their physical toughness but mental toughness as well.”

— Coach Eric Sherry

Although allowing sports to count for physical education credits would potentially be advantageous to school athletic departments and to the lives of student athletes, at this point the state of Virginia is certain that keeping the requirement of physical education and health class credits is most favorable to ensure student’s health in the future.

“The state of Virginia values above all else the health of students, and we do not believe that counting sports for credit would allow students to truly understand health and fitness, and how to maintain that as a lifestyle,” concluded Wingard.