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From Alternative Sports to Technology?

In the mid-1990s, the newly opened Cabell-Midland High School in rural Cabell County (W.Va.) Schools rolled out a physical education curriculum way ahead of the curve and constructed around educating students for the long run. The program was also contoured to the local topography.

“Here in West Virginia, people walk, hike and ride bicycles. We should be teaching these activities,” says Bane McCracken, the program’s founder.

McCracken devised a termlong elective in backpacking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, skiing and even fishing, for which he recruited a professional bass fisherman as a guest lecturer. The classes leading up to the actual trips to ski, raft, backpack, hike or fish dealt mainly with preparing for those trips—building muscle, reflexes and endurance.

When McCracken departed Cabell-Midland in the middle of the last decade to head West Virginia’s state department of physical education, the robust outdoor program he had created petered out, disappearing altogether when the mountain bikes finally broke down a few years ago. While the school still offers an array of traditional team sports, it has been lacking in alternatives in the past few years.

The school is now shifting into the 21st century of fitness. “We’re moving into new technologies,” explains the school’s principal, David Tackett, who is considering purchasing a Wii Fit exercise system. “We would project the Wii image onto a large screen in the gym, and we might have as many as 50 people in class following along on steps,” he calculates. The $250-$300 for a Wii and its fitness software fit the school budget, he adds, and may well attract students who already play computer games on the Wii and similar devices.