My path to SPARK differed from those of Jim and Paul. I grew up in rural Canada where my mother was my elementary school teacher and taught grades 1, 2, and 3 simultaneously in a 2-room schoolhouse. Although she had no background in physical education, she ensured all students had twice-daily physical activity breaks—even during cold and long winters.

In seventh grade I went to the regional secondary school and encountered my first-ever trained physical education (PE) specialist. My career path was hooked. From that time onward, all I wanted to be was a PE teacher!

And I did! By age 20, I had a bachelor’s degree in PE and many coaching certificates, and I began teaching in the province of Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada.

NOTE: I do not recommend teachers begin their career by teaching high school students who are only two years younger than them!

PEI provided a tremendously supportive environment, and I prospered as a PE teacher, multiple sport coach, athletic director, sport official, assistant school principal, and summer school sport camp instructor. I wrote and implemented PE curricula and delivered additional before, during and after school programs year-round, including those involving the shared-use of school facilities. During this time, I was selected to represent the Province on a 2-year national physical activity facilities study. That, along with my background in behavior analysis, got me hooked on research too!

Cut to years later! After a PhD in Physical Education Teacher Education and Applied Behavior Analysis and teaching potential teachers and researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, I began doing the same at San Diego State University. While directing summer residential programs for low-fit and obese children, I met Dr. Jim Sallis, already a national physical activity research icon.

The rest is history, one well-chronicled in the blogs of Jim and Paul and our summary paper:

McKenzie, T. L., Sallis, J. F., Rosengard, P. R., & Ballard, K. (2016). The SPARK Programs: A public health model of physical education research and dissemination. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 35, 381-389. doi.10.1123/jtpe.2016-0100

In brief, the highlights of my 30-plus years with SPARK are:

  • Meeting Jim Sallis and being invited to collaborate on the design and implementation of a large multi-disciplinary, NIH-research project.
  • Receiving SPARK funding for 5 years (1989) and having it extended for 2 more.
  • Engaging on a day-to-day basis with Jim, Paul Rosengard, Kecia Carrasco, Nell Faucette, Julia Roby and other staff to design and implement curricula and measurement protocols in schools where we were guests.
  • Reviewing data as they emerged from the computer and discovering our ideas and hard work had paid off! PE lessons of both classroom teachers and specialists improved, and children in intervention schools became more physical activity, physically fit, and physically skilled. As well, both teachers and students reported anonymously that they liked the programs, boding well for further adoption.
  • Being able to scientifically demonstrate that SPARK worked, and then receiving an additional 4-year NIH grant to extend the program and research into middle schools (M-SPAN, 1996).

Seeing Paul Rosengard’s business sense and hard work to disseminate SPARK after the research studies ended pay off. That is a tremendous accomplishment, and I’m proud that SPARK thrives still, 30 years later!

Dr. Thom McKenzie

Dr. Thom Mckenzie is Professor Emeritus in the School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University and former Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego. A native of Canada, he is a former public school teacher, coach, and administrator. He has authored or co-authored over 200 papers and book chapters and presented nearly 500 papers at professional conferences. He is a Fellow of four professional organizations, including the Research Consortium of SHAPE, the National Academy of Kinesiology (NAK), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and the North American Society of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport and Dance Professionals (NAS). He has received many awards, including the AIESEP International Olympic Committee President’s Prize for research and program development, the NASPE Hall of Fame Award, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition Lifetime Achievement Award, and an honorary doctorate from Finland. He currently serves as an educational and research consultant on numerous projects. http://www.thomckenzie.com/