Just ask Art Kitzman ...

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Reading about Bureau Valley’s decision to pursue a waiver to change the physical education program in their district got me to thinking about gym when I was in elementary school. They’re happy memories. I had one of the greatest teachers. Now I know that a lot of people say their teacher was the best (and I say that about my high school journalism adviser as well), but Art Kitzman from Paul Norton Elementary School in the Bettendorf Community School District in Bettendorf, Iowa, takes the cake for sure.

My elementary school went from kindergarten to fifth grade. Now I had some amazing teachers and some who I would prefer to just forget about and move past. But Mr. Kitzman is one of those teachers we all treasured for his compassion toward us and his passion for teaching us.

Now, how I remember gym is that we had it every day for at least 40 minutes. We would line up at our classroom door, waiting for our teacher to lead us to freedom. We would often pass a class leaving the gym and try to find out what Mr. Kitzman had planned for that day, but often times we would just be told, “Oh, you just have to wait,” and “It was so much fun!”

At the gym, we would hurry to our spots to stretch. Mr. Kitzman would teach us just the basics, such as touch your toes, stretch your arms, jumping jacks, crunches, and on occasions, push-ups. And then we would run, only for about five minutes. Just enough so we would get out a little burst of pent up energy but not enough to wipe us out for the rest of the class. And if we were really lucky, he would pull out the record player (yes, that’s right, a record player), and we would run to whatever vinyl record he put on. I’m sure they’ve upgraded it by now to accommodate a MP3 player.

Once we finished our calisthenics, it was time for the real fun to begin. Every child learns about sportsmanship early on in their physical education days, and I was no exception. Mr. Kitzman made sure we knew the rules for the games we were playing, correcting us when we erred and supporting us as we achieved. He was our biggest cheerleader. We learned how to play all the basic sports. He taught us square dancing. I can still remember that rickety record player starting up and the whine it emitted as it worked to catch the vein.

But mostly I remember the “special” gym classes. Every year, like clockwork, we knew what was coming. In honor of Halloween, out would come the record player and we would all bring our rollerblades and skate around the gym to songs like “Monster Mash,” “Thriller” and “Ghostbusters.” At the end of the year we would have a Fun Run and picnic with our families, and he would hand out our medals. And in honor of the Indy 500, because school didn’t end until early June, we would partner up, grab two scooters (one for our butts and one for our feet) and race around the gym. Despite the chance of pinched fingers or skinned knees, it was always fun.

Yes, those memories still stick with me to this day, but there is one week that every student who ever attended Paul Norton remembers as the greatest, coolest, most awesome week of the year. We all looked forward to it, but never knew when it was coming until that Monday. It was the Indiana Jones Obstacle Course Week!

Mr. Kitzman would set up this crazy course that we would work our way through, after we did our stretches. We would have to cross monkey bars without falling our touching the mat under our feet. We would have to perfect our balance as we crossed multiple balance beams (they were only a few inches off the ground, but to us and our imagination we were crossing the Grand Canyon). We would have to army crawl through tubes, swing from rope to rope, jump over discs that symbolized dangerous rocks and all the while beware of what was “lava” and what was safe. We got to do this for a whole week. To us, this was the greatest week of the year. It made us active; got us to burn off extra energy we had accumulated during the day; and it was always fun. We loved it. It was our chance to feel like explorers and adventurers. We all knew who Indiana Jones was, so we knew what he did (and to us as kids, even now, he has a pretty cool job).

It’s been 13 years since I did that obstacle course, but it’s always stayed with me. Gym is important to a young mind and body. The memories made in that class last us a lifetime. I’m sure if you were to ask any Mr. Kitzman, Paul Norton alum what their favorite gym memory is, it would be one I’ve shared.

Hopefully, the school board won’t cut gym time because you never know which student might be the next Indiana Jones.

BCR Copy Editor Sarah Maxwell can be reached at smaxwell@bcrnews.com.

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