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Where have all the showers gone?

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With their roomy individual stalls and sturdy vinyl curtains, the locker-room showers at Otay Ranch High School look as if they belong in an elite fitness center. Everything is clean and sparkling and, most days, dry as a bone.

Students in this San Diego suburb would rather stink than shower at school, and coaches are helpless to force anyone to bathe after marathon two-hour physical education classes. "We encourage it, we suggest it, we do everything we can," says Gene Alim, veteran athletic director at Otay Ranch. "But the problem is that we're restricted as to what we can enforce."

Like thousands of other high schools from Texas to Pennsylvania, Otay Ranch High makes showers voluntary in order to save money and reduce aggravation. But if a leading children's fitness advocate has his way, gym showers won't be all washed up.

Charles Corbin, professor of exercise and fitness at Arizona State University, says individual stalls are just the beginning. He is calling on high schools to coax kids into cleanliness by building fancier locker rooms, providing amenities like hair dryers, and making sure adults prevent horseplay.

"What we're finding out is that in more than a few cases, especially among kids who aren't athletically gifted, the physical education experience can be negative," says Mr. Corbin. "And a lot of it surrounds what goes on in the locker rooms."

Before the crackdown on mandatory showers began about 20 years ago, American schoolchildren routinely had to strip down and soap up.


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