July 24, 2008

Adults Enjoy Childhood Games ; But at Old School P.E., Rules Avoided


NEWPORT, N.H. When "spastic ball" starts, it's better to duck first and ask questions later.

This is Old School P.E., a two-hour exercise program for adults, built around grown-up versions of gym class staples. Participants say getting in shape is a bonus to the main attraction a Friday night out with friends, away from the kids.

"From the very beginning, we decided on a very small set of rules because we didn't want it to get that 'league' kind of feel," said co-founder Mike Pettinicchio. "You want to go out, have some fun, be a little competitive, but we all have lives. There are not going to be any scouts in the stands."

In fact, there aren't any stands in the Newport Recreation Center, just a bench inches from the action.

So when a game of floor hockey or spastic ball (think soccer mixed with basketball) gets going, spectators must stand ready to jump out of the way of a flying stick or ball.

The rules are simple: Spouses or significant others must play on opposing teams. Keeping score is prohibited. The commissioner one is chosen each night decides which games are played and can alter them. Want to play floor hockey with a dodgeball? Go for it. Two balls? Sure.

Following on the success of grown-up dodgeball and kickball leagues, classes like Newport's Old School P.E. or Urban Recess in Portland, Ore., are a way to enjoy childhood activities without all the rules.

Newport Recreation director P.J. Lovely says he often has to turn people away when a new eight-week session starts because the gym can't accommodate more than about two dozen.

"We're almost a victim of our own success right now," he said.

At a recent gathering, participants started with quick warm-up session followed by three games: floor hockey, spastic ball and Ultimate Frisbee.

They moved outside for the last activity for a men vs. women competition.

Ethel Frese, a professor of physical therapy at St. Louis University, said Old School P.E. fits into a trend toward programs that move beyond the traditional treadmill by emphasizing entertainment.

"The nice thing about doing a group activity is that you get the social interaction, which is also part of general health," she said.

(c) 2008 Record, The; Bergen County, N.J.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.