Tom Cronan was a lifelong outdoorsman who was passionate about fitness and its many benefits, both physically and emotionally.
Now, almost a decade after his death at age 64 of pancreatic cancer, a bill in the legislature would honor the East Tennessee educator by requiring that the state’s students spend more time playing sports and exercising during school.
The Tom Cronan Physical Education Act, which unanimously passed the House Instruction and Programs Committee on Tuesday, would serve as a living tribute to the professor emeritus of exercise physiology at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City.
It also would act on research showing that physical education boosts children’s brain development, helps form lifelong exercise habits and promotes overall health and mental wellbeing.
The bill would require all public elementary school students to participate in a physical education class taught by a P.E. teacher at least two times a week.
Currently, Tennessee requires physical education for its K-8 students, but doesn’t specify how much time students should spend in it.
Cronan’s widow Joan, a former women’s athletics director at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, testified to lawmakers this year about the potential impact of physical education on student engagement and obesity. P.E. also could give students life skills that translate to academic success, she said.
“The Tom Cronan Physical Education bill could make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “We feel like that this discipline will make a difference.”
The bill is sponsored by Roger Kane, a Knoxville Republican, in the House, and Bill Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican, in the Senate, where it passed the education committee last month. The measure now goes to the finance committees of both chambers.
Though the proposal wouldn’t cost the state extra money, it does come with a collective $253,000 price tag for three smaller school districts — in Dyer, Hardeman and Carter counties — that would have to hire new teachers to meet the requirement.
The bill isn’t the first to address physical activity in schools, where more rigorous academic standards and preparation for high-stakes testing have challenged educators to strike the right balance.
In 2016, the legislature approved stringent playtime requirements that went into effect last fall. But lawmakers recently voted to roll those back to give educators more flexibility with recess. But they didn’t scrap the requirements altogether. Under the bill that Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to sign into law, younger students would be required to have at least 130 minutes of recess a week.