James Madison University, Department of Kinesiology
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James Madison University, Department of Kinesiology

By Janet Wigglesworth, PhD, Professor

James Madison University is a state-owned institution of 19,000 students about one hundred miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the area is known for its Civil War history, bluegrass music, temperate climate, traditional southern food, and outdoor sports (cycling, canoeing, winter sports, and golf). JMU is situated in Harrisonburg, a small city of about 40,000, located in the most agricultural county in Virginia. Conveniently located on Interstate 81, Harrisonburg is an hour drive from Charlottesville (University of Virginia) and a two-hour drive from Richmond and Blacksburg (Virginia Tech).

Brief History

Like many state-owned colleges, James Madison University opened its doors as a “normal” school in 1908, with 200 women students and eleven faculty members. One of the faculty members was a young woman from Indiana named Althea Loose who taught Latin, German, and physical education. There was no physical education major in those days, only a service program.

After being pronounced physically fit by Dr. Spitty (Thomas C. Firebaugh, M.D.), a student went to Miss Loose to be measured for a gym suit. This outfit consisted of dark blue serge bloomers, with two yards of material on each leg that fit tightly just above the knee and looped over the knee. Blue serge waists, with conservation square necks and elbow-length sleeves, buttoned down the front. Long black stockings and low, rubber-soled canvas shoes completed the outfit. Thus attired the girls would assemble upstairs in Science Hall with the partition-removed connecting classrooms that served as a gymnasium as well as an assembly hall. Removing equipment from cabinets along the walls, they would participate in drills, with dumbbells, wands and Indian clubs, or throw the medicine ball. Sometimes there would be folk dancing or a game of volleyball. Under the personal supervision of Miss Loose, three tennis courts were laid out along the top of the hill on the northeastern side of the campus, where an outdoor basketball court was also provided.

The department established its own major in 1926 to prepare physical and health education teachers for Virginia’s public schools. For many years the institution prepared more physical education teachers than any other college in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1938, the institution changed its name to Madison College, in honor of the fourth president of the United States. During the 1950s and ‘60s, the institution nurtured many young women faculty members who went on to become national leaders in physical education, including Celeste Ulrich, Mary K. Beyrer, Dorothy Harris, Caroline Sinclair, Marilyn Crawford, Lee Morrison, and Patricia Bruce. The institution became coed in 1966 and changed its name to James Madison University in 1977.

As happened with many physical education departments across the country, during the 1970s a new academic “track” emerged from within the physical education major. At first it simply was called the “non-teaching” track. This track appealed to students who were drawn to physical activity and sport but didn’t want to teach in the schools. These students wanted to be coaches, athletic directors, recreational leaders, exercise leaders, trainers, and health professionals. Later, this non-teaching track morphed into the academic concentrations of exercise science, athletic training, sports administration, recreation, health science, and dance. A number of years ago at JMU health science, athletic training, and dance split from physical education to form their own departments on campus. But, we should remember, these majors grew from the same disciplinary base.

In 1991, the department changed its name from Physical Education and Sport to Kinesiology. This change in name occurred in many, if not most, of the physical education departments across the United States. The change was meant to reflect an emphasis on the discipline instead of the profession. At that time the Department of Kinesiology at JMU had about 70 undergraduate majors, 15 graduate majors, and 11 faculty members.

Current Programs

Today the department supports about 900 undergraduate majors, 80 graduate majors, and 21 faculty members and is the sixth largest academic department on the JMU campus. The institution has grown over the past two decades, and the department’s enrollment has more than kept pace. The department is known on campus for its high-quality programs, enthusiastic majors, careful faculty scholarship, and competent teaching.

The department supports one undergraduate major with three academic concentrations: Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education, and Sport and Recreation Management. Each of these academic concentrations has a parallel graduate program. The department also supports two academic minors: Sport Communication and Coaching Education.

The department contributes to the university’s General Education program, offering 35 sections a semester of a basic fitness/wellness course for college students. In this course, students spend about half their time engaged in physical activity and half their time in lecture. Most sections are taught by teaching assistants (graduate students), who are under the supervision of “lead” instructors. This Gen Ed course continues to receive very positive assessments from students for its quality and relativity.

In conjunction with the university’s student recreation center, the department also offers a comprehensive series of one-credit basic activity courses, including archery, golf, lifesaving, karate, scuba, racquetball, and skiing. This “basic instruction” program enables students to master the basics of the sport or activity and provides an instructional entry to activities sponsored by the student recreation center (UREC).

The undergraduate Exercise Science program enrolls about 220 undergraduate majors. It is a high-quality program endorsed by the ACSM. Students take their biology, science, and mathematics courses with other science and preprofessional health majors. Exercise Science students are exposed early and often to clinical experiences. About 40% of Exercise Science students go on to graduate education in exercise science, physical therapy, or one of the other allied health sciences. Exercise Science has two labs on campus: a research lab with the latest scientific equipment, including a chemical lab, metabolic carts, and a DXA machine, and a newly renovated teaching lab. [PHOTO 2; caption: Science students are exposed early and often to clinical experiences.] Faculty members are committed to high-quality teaching and research. They take pride in their research collaboration with undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty members from other departments.

The Physical and Health Education program (PHETE) is a five-year program leading to state licensure and an MAT degree. Students must meet requirements to qualify for entry into teacher education and again for entry into the graduate phase of the program. Students graduating from this program are highly motivated, well prepared, and sought after by school districts throughout Virginia and beyond. The program features relatively small classes, a low student-to-teacher ratio, and lots of hands-on experience. The students enter and go through the program as a cadre, so there is a positive feeling of friendship and mutual support in the cadre. For the past several years, every PHETE graduate seeking a teaching job has been placed

The undergraduate Sport and Recreation Management program resulted of the merger of Sport Management and Recreation Management in 2005-06. Just prior to 2005, it was noticed that both programs offered very similar curricula and were preparing students for very similar work sites. The term “Mega-Leisure” was coined to describe in broad terms the setting for which these people were being prepared. This broad setting included professional and college sports teams, resorts, sport clubs, public recreation, travel and tourism, private recreation, and so on. Students in Sport and Recreation Management complete the College of Business’ general academic minor, and so they have a strong business background.

The Department offers two popular minors. The National Council for the Accreditation of Coaching Education (NCACE) endorses the Coaching minor, and the program graduates certified athletic coaches. The Sport Communication minor is a joint program with two communications departments and the sports media relations department.

The Department of Kinesiology at James Madison University offers two graduate degrees at the master’s level. The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program (the fifth year of the PHETE program) leads students to a state teaching license in health and physical education. The Master of Science (MS) program provides a concentration in Exercise Science and a concentration in Sport and Recreation Leadership.

The Exercise Science graduate program provides specialties in:
Clinical Exercise Physiology
Exercise Physiology
Nutrition and Physical Activity

The Sport and Recreation Management graduate program provides specialties in:
Sport Leadership
Recreation Leadership
Campus Recreation

In 2006, the University established the Morrison-Bruce Center to develop and provide activities to promote physical activity for girls and women and enhance their knowledge of health issues. Named in honor of retired faculty members Lee Morrison and Patricia Bruce, the MBC offers regular programs and services for the JMU community and the Commonwealth of Virginia. [PHOTO 3; caption: Established in 2006, the Morrison-Bruce Center promotes physical activity for girls and women.]

Future Plans

Within the next two years the Sport and Recreation Management (SRM) program will be leaving Kinesiology to merge with the Hospitality and Tourism Management program from the College of Business to form a new unit, a “school” independent of, but affiliated with, the College of Business. Over the past several years it became clear that most SRM graduates were entering the business world and that a business environment would be more suitable for both faculty and students. The remaining programs in Kinesiology at JMU, Exercise Science and Physical and Health Education, will be joining a newly formed college, likely to be called the College of Health Professions or some iteration of that name.

JMU plans to continue to grow over the next ten years to meet the demands of the graduates of Virginia’s high schools. A growth to 22,000 students is anticipated. It is also anticipated that the graduate program will continue to expand significantly. The challenge will be maintaining high standards and increased growth in a financial climate that appears to be frosty at best.

Since its inception more than 100 years ago, JMU has always offered academic programs based on physical activity and sport. As the institution continues to grow, the Department of Kinesiology will remain an integral part of the University’s future.