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Freshman PT Requirement -- Why Bother?

By James R. Beniger

In the basement of the Harvard Athletic Association building at 60 Boylston St. is a small office. With its pink walls, potted plants and a Fogg reproduction over the fireplace, the room is a rather unlikely rendezvous for budding athletes. It is the home of the Physical Training program.

According to Harvard tradition, every freshman must prove his manhood in three great trials. He must survive the Radcliffe mixer, he must pass freshman English-- and he must get 30 PT's each semester.

This final trial--60 hours of physical training--is by far the most painful. "Everyone complains about PT's," says a Dunster House sophomore who still hasn't put in enough hours, "but nobody ever does anything about them."

Last spring, the Faculty Committee on Sports appointed a ten-member subcommittee to do something about the entire freshman physical training program. So far, it has done nothing. "Most of us agree that it would not be good to do away with the PT requirement," says Eric Cutler '40, Assistant Director of Athletics and chairman of the subcommittee. "We're just looking to improve the program."

As the program now stands, some form of athletics, however loosely defined, is required of all Harvard freshmen. Those not in intercollegiate sports as players or managers must spend 30 hour-periods each semester in an activity approved by the Physical Training Office.

This requirement has remained unchanged since 1914, when Dr. Roger P. Lee '02, University Physician, prescribed a compulsory program of three hours of exercise each week for freshmen. Harvard's other physical training requirement--that every graduate must be able to swim 50 yards--dates back to 1882.

Assistant Director Cutler believes that the original purpose of physical training was to make freshmen "more conscious of their general health," and that this remains the chief aim of the program. "President Kennedy's fitness campaign has not reached very many," he says. "Television has made us a spectator nation. Freshman must be taught that they look and feel better if they exercise regularly." The fact is that most freshmen come to Harvard as schoolboy athletes. As former Assistant Dean of Admissions for seven years, Cutler realizes this. "Two-thirds of each class have earned varsity letters in high school," he says. "These 800 boys would exercise even without PT requirements."

Last year, 779 freshmen spent 2232 hours in the freshman intramural program. Whether intramurals would be this popular if they were not a means of getting PT credits is one question people raise when considering dropping the PT requirement.

"I wouldn't say there'd be as many boys in intramurals if PT's were dropped," says Rufus W. Peebles Jr. '61, freshman proctor and intramural director. "But the program would certainly survive. The PT requirement exists for only about ten per cent of the class, but just like Gen Ed, this area is important enough to make everybody fall in line."

The trouble is that even former athletes don't stay in line. "Once they have done their PT's," says an Eliot House junior, "upperclassmen are going to get out of shape anyway. My roommate was captain of three sports back in St. Louis. Now he's just getting fat."

If the Physical Training program achieves any lasting good, it is to encourage high school athletes to take up more "sociable" sports. "Boys who letter in football in high school must realize that they can't continue to play when they're 40," Cutler says. "The PT program creates new interests in such sports as squash, swimming, tennis and golf. For this reason alone, the program probably has been a good thing." Y.C. Burriss Young '51, Assistant Dean of Freshmen, agrees that the real value of physical training is that it encourages what he terms "carry-over" sports.

Nathaniel A. Parker, Director of Physical Training, already allows PT credit for such "carry-over" sports as pistol and rifle, cricket and karate, and, upon application, for such other esoteric activities as Radcliffe volleyball and dancing classes, Loeb Theatre musical productions and donations to the PBH blood drive. Two freshmen received credit for SCUBA diving in the IAB pool last year, a third for his riding lessons at Beverley.

Although Parker gave PT-credit for the freshman ping-pong tournament, he refused the Gargoyle tiddly-wink team similar recognition. He also balked when a freshman expressed interest in a 100-mile run sponsored by the YMCA.

PT-credit is automatically given to freshmen who march in ROTC or the Harvard Band, or who serve as intramural secretaries for their dorms. Most of the rest of the class participate in swimming and tennis in the fall, squash and basketball in the winter, and tennis and squash in the spring. Football and basketball are the most popular intramural sports. Last year, only 22 freshmen signed up for baseball--supposedly America's National Pastime.

The PT Office gives instruction in water safety and life-saving, tennis, squash and rowing. For the second year, skiing classes are being held on Boston Hill in North Andover, with an enrollment of over 200. Cutler feels that this kind of general instruction is important for non-athletes, and hopes to expand the list of offerings. "Bowling might be popular," he says, "but right now we lack the facilities."

Yale has began experimenting with such an instructional physical education program. Faculty members with interests in camping, hiking, moun- rain-climbing and even field ornithology are recruited to teach freshmen. "A voluntary program like this would be good," says Cutler. "Even if we did away with PT's, we could still have instruction in swimming and conservation."

All the Ivy League schools require athletics for freshmen. Dartmouth, Cornell and Columbia have a required program for sophomores as well. (Although Radcliffe dropped its requirement years ago, Cliffies must still pass a swimming test before graduation.)

Last spring, Dean Monro told the Committee on Houses that beginning this year, students will be excused from Harvard's swimming requirement if they "try hard" and are unable to pass.

Until his year, students who could not swim were graduated but not given a degree. Difficulties arose when businesses refused to hire these students. Non-swimmers plagued doctors and psychiatrists to be excused for chloride allergies on aquaphobia. One summa scholar supposedly spent the night before graduation trying to swim the IAB pool so that he might receive a Harvard diploma.

Two years ago, Monro relaxed the PT requirement -- from three hours a week to 30 hours over the entire semester, "Monro's reappraisals have made our program much more flexible," Cutler says. "The previous requirement of three PT's every week made it difficult to study before hour exams. We do have some problems with boys rushing to get PT's at the end of the semester, however."

This is an understatement. At the end of reading period, one-fourth of the freshman class had not fulfilled its physical training obligations.

"It's kind of a Mickey Mouse thing," complains a secretary in the Freshman Dean's Office. "We had to type up 340 warning letters to Freshman advisors. Most of the boys only had one or two more PT's to go."

Parker sends two warning letters each semester to delinquent freshmen. This year, he was also forced to extend the exam period deadline to February 1. Still some 40 freshmen failed to meet the PT requirement.

According to college rules, a freshman who doesn't fulfill the requirement has to get another 30 PT's during the first semester of his sophomore year. Actually, less than half of those who don't meet the requirement end up paying this penalty. Many are eventually excused because of term-time employment or "adjustment problems." Last fall, only 14 of 44 failures were ordered to repeat.

Word spreads quickly around the Yard that "cheap" PT's are available in swimming and skating. A student monitor in the IAB admits that many freshmen "hang on the side of the pool for a few minutes" to meet the hour requirement. Several freshman confess to signing in at Watson Rink and then walking out the back door with borrowed skates which do not even fit.

It is not unusual at intramural events to see freshmen signing PT cards for dorm-mates. Several young entrepreneurs sold extra credits last year. In 1955, a senior who had not fulfilled his PT requirement hired freshmen to sign him in at various events. All went well until he was married and told his new bride of this ingenious scheme. She demanded that he confess his sins at the PT Office. He finally settled down to 30 hours of physical training -- and a lifetime of marital bliss.

Freshmen with physical training difficulties eventually find their way to the PT Office. There they get aid and comfort from the secretary, Mrs. Margaret Phillips, who has been "Mrs. PT" to freshmen for the past eight years.

"Yes, I mother the boys," Mrs. Phillips admits. "A few freshmen get homesick and come in with some trumped up excuse just to be mothered. I always tell them not to let their PT's go until the last minute."

Since they are closest to the physical training program, Mrs. Phillips and part-time secretary Mrs. Sprague have their own arguments for retaining it. "Physical training gets boys out, of their little social cliques," says Mrs. Phillips. "It helps them meet other boys, and make some new friends."

"It also gets them away from their books," adds Mrs. Sprague. "Freshmen are the most serious class and they study much too hard. It's good to get them out-of-doors once in a while."

Not all freshmen see the value of this philosophy. "It's like making us go out with girls to keep us in shape socially," one freshman commented. "If it's so important, they should leave it up to us. They leave much more important things up to us.

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