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Skateboarding added to gym classes

Skate Pass co-founder Eric Klassen teaches students at Boulder, Colo.'s Douglass Elementary, the first school in the nation to adopt the program, in 2006. David S. Holloway/Getty

When Bill Ewe, a physical education teacher in southern New Jersey, approached the principal at the middle school where he works about adding skateboarding to the curriculum, "he looked at me like I was a little crazy," Ewe said.

But Ewe, a longtime skater who played college baseball, showed his bosses a news clip demonstrating how a skateboarding program had been successfully integrated into gym classes at a California high school.

Soon district officials approved Ewe's proposal, and last spring students at Kingsway Middle School in Swedesboro, N.J., began pushing and kickflipping for credit.

"The kids had a blast," Ewe said about a system that emphasizes balance, agility, coordination, self-esteem and perseverance over trying to become the next pro. "A 42-minute class period was gone like that."

With a new academic year starting earlier this month, Ewe plans to resume skate-school for students in seventh and eighth grades.

"We always try to find something new and innovative to attract the attention of kids," Ewe said about a national trend in education called "The New P.E." that stresses alternative, individual and non-competitive activities to appeal to students who aren't necessarily natural athletes.

As some schools wave good-bye to dodgeball, they've welcomed other sports such as rock climbing and skateboarding.

Ewe sets up cones in the gym to create areas for beginners, intermediate and advanced skaters, all of whom wear full pads and helmets. Last year he asked the most accomplished to perform demos. "This activity evens the playing field," he said. "Some of our athletes were beginners as skateboarders."

The standardized curriculum comes from a Boulder, Colo.-based company called Skate Pass, which as of 2010 has been approved in 500 schools in 31 states and Canada, Germany, Singapore, and the Dominican Republic. More than 1 million students have had the opportunity to skate in gym as part of the program, said Eric Klassen, a founder and longtime skater.

Klassen said skateboarding has gained broader acceptance in schools as teachers look for innovative ways for students to get fit. "There's a global recognition for kids to get healthier," he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years. Nearly 20 percent of all youth between ages 6 and 19 qualify as obese, which increases risks for a range of health problems.

Enter the likes of skateboarding. "It's almost like fooling them into exercising," Ewe said. "It's a really good workout."

A former pro snowboarder who competed at the 1998 Winter X Games in Snowboarder X and Slopestyle, Klassen, 40, rediscovered skateboarding as his shred career wound down.

He moved back to Boulder, from California, and teamed with his former P.E. teacher, Richard Cendali, to come up with a skateboarding program that suited schools. They joined forces with Eva Mullen, who brings a business background to the partnership. "It was so radical an idea that we were all inspired to go for it," Klassen said.

Skate Pass began in Colorado schools and expanded to the national level in 2006. "We had to prove that everyone could do it, and that it was safe," Klassen said.

The program costs schools approximately $3,000, depending on options, and includes 20 complete boards, full pads, helmets, a curriculum and instructional DVDs.

Components of the boards are custom-made to prevent damage to gym floors. Wheels, by Skate One (makers of Bones brand) are specially designed to grip and rebound properly on wood, and they are wider than street wheels to cover truck axles in the event a board lands Primo. Soft bushings allow the board to carve at slow speeds.

And grip tape has been cut away from the nose, tail and rails to prevent scratching the floor if the board lands upside down.

With the boards and curriculum customized for the classes and an established record of safety, Klassen has watched skateboarding find an unlikely place alongside basketball and floor hockey in gyms around the world.

"What we have now is a whole generation of teachers that have grown up skateboarding and been around it enough not to be afraid of it," he said. "They understand it."