ESPN2 program gives children jump-start on math and physics


To this point, getting programming that is educational and entertaining on commercial television has been a hit-or-miss prospect, kind of like getting Larry King away from a divorce lawyer.

But ESPN2 may have found the formula to getting kids interested in math and physics with a new weekly 30-minute program, "SportsFigures."

The network is encouraging high schools to tape the commercial-free show and incorporate its lessons -- including explorations of why spirals make the best football passes, how much time a hitter has to decide whether or not to swing at a pitch or how fast a cyclist has to pedal at a certain gear to reach 30 mph -- into the curriculum.

If all this sounds pretty dry, the network has gone to great lengths to make the show interesting to its ninth- to 12th-grade audience by incorporating them into each program.

"In no way is this a lecture. It's a fast-moving series," said Richard Rusczyk, an educational adviser and series co-host with Suzy Kolber. "The myth that kids don't want to learn is just that: a myth. What we've tried to do is present them with things they might not know in an entertaining, but informative way."

To make the lessons more palatable, ESPN2 contacted a number of athletes from various walks of life, including John McEnroe, Juwan Howard, Tiger Woods, former goaltender for the U.S. national soccer team Tony Meola, the Georgetown women's basketball team, and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young.

Young, who recently received a law degree from Brigham Young, took part in the segment on spirals. He said an advanced calculus course "crushed" his spirit in school, and the chance to help kids learn math was one he couldn't pass up.

"Sports has always been a luxury for kids. Get good grades and you can continue in athletics. If you don't, you're out," said Young. "If we can use athletics to make better students, I can't think of a better program. We're not asking everyone to be math majors, but at least to be competent."

The show airs at 2 p.m. Thursdays, with a rerun at 2:30 a.m. Fridays.

Deafening silence

It has been almost two months since Sports Illustrated did a story on the specter of domestic violence that haunts sports, and new examples have been added, but except for a brief SITV package on "Wide World of Sports" that week, no one has stepped forward to tackle the issue.

To be sure, spousal abuse by athletes is hardly the stuff that makes for what passes for profound studio chat, but the issue screams for some reporting and discussion at the pre-game and studio-show level. That is, unless producers and executives think we viewers are only entitled to the superficial myth and not the truth that often lies beneath the surface.

Off to the races

ESPN and Churchill Downs have announced a multi-year deal that will include beefed-up Kentucky Derby coverage.

Starting next year, ESPN and ESPN2 will carry 15 hours of coverage in the four days preceding the Derby, which will remain on ABC, ESPN's parent company.

Catching up with 'Skeets'

HBO's "Inside the NFL" will have a "Where are they now?" feature on former world-class Maryland hurdler Renaldo "Skeets" Nehemiah on Thursday at 11 p.m.

In case you've forgotten, Nehemiah, who never played collegiate football, spent four years with the 49ers and received a Super Bowl ring. Besides coaching track at George Mason University and operating a financial management firm that caters to athletes, Nehemiah is appearing in a rather cheesy commercial for a local auto insurance company, where the tag line invites competitors to "kiss their bumper."

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