Walcoff: Performing burpees around the Bay — for a cause 

Four days into his monthlong pilgrimage, Joel Kirsch is tired but inspired.

The one-time Giants team psychologist is making his way from the Marin-Sonoma County line to the Golden Gate Bridge in a most amazing fashion.

Taking a cue from Buddhist monks, the 62-year-old Kirsch is traveling the entire 40 miles by standing straight, crouching down, extending his body fully on the ground, doing a push-up and then bringing his feet forward to where the hands are and repeating the process over and over and over again. Burpees for eight hours a day. Six days a week until he gets to
San Francisco.

The founder of the nonprofit American Sports Institute is using his Forrest Gump-like trek to focus a spotlight on why California’s public schools are in trouble from escalating dropout rates, student disengagement, obesity and poor fitness.
Kirsch’s answer? The Arete School of Sport and Culture — a tuition-free, privately funded, community based Marin K-12 school that he hopes to create to serve as a model for transforming the learning experience. Arete is the ancient Greek word for living up to one’s potential or virtue.

Full disclosure time. I am a longtime advisory board member of ASI. Joel has spent almost 25 years researching the role of sports in education and now is at the forefront of a growing group of academics that believes there is a direct connection between health, fitness and the brain. Kirsch maintains that the healthier the student, the better he will perform in the classroom.

“Yet our schools give the physical domain just passing interest. Student disengagement and poor health status of kids aren’t the problems, they are the symptom of something much greater,” Kirsh says.

I have seen Joel teach his PASS program (Promoting Achievement in School through Sports) and its positive results.

The essence of his message can be found in what Kirsch calls FAMS (Fundamentals of Athletic Mastery Skills) such as concentration, balance, rhythm, focus, flexibility, patience, perseverance and a positive attitude. Skills that athletes often apply unconsciously on the ball field that can have an equally profound effect in the classroom if given a chance.

Sadly, instead of recognizing the growing need to incorporate more physical activity into higher education, schools are cutting athletic programs. Despite a huge outcry, UC Davis just dropped several intercollegiate sports: women’s rowing, men’s swimming, diving, wrestling and indoor track and field.

Kirsch adds, “There’s a great divide between current educational models and the human model. What’s being offered in the latest educational-reform movement are mostly the same old, tired ways that have been tried before that just dull-down, disillusion, dishearten and eventually disengage kids.” Game on.

For more information about the Arete School Pilgrimage go to the American Sports Institute website at: www.amersports.org/progandserv/aretepilgrimage.html.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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