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District-Wide Physical Education Wins Blue Ribbon

MCHS Blue Ribbon Physical Education Department  

The District 156 physical education department earned a five-year Blue Ribbon Award designation from the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (IAHPERD) following a year-long effort to showcase the department’s approach to educating the whole student – mind and body.

District officials and physical education teachers and administrators received the Blue Ribbon award plaque and banner during a Nov. 15 dinner at Pheasant Run resort in St. Charles as part of the association’s annual conference.

“We are very proud that our PE department was recognized by the Blue Ribbon committee for the amazing work they do on behalf of our school community each and every day,” said Dr. Ryan McTague, District 156 superintendent. “This recognition solidified their status as one of the most progressive P.E. Departments in the state, and it is an honor that is well deserved.”

McHenry High School, which includes East Campus and West Campus, is one of 10 schools to receive the award this year, but the only school to be a first-time recipient, said Maureen Fournier, a co-chair of the association’s Blue Ribbon Committee for Physical Education.

Of the 73 schools statewide to earn a Blue Ribbon for physical education since the award’s inception in 1999, McHenry is one of only 12 high schools.

In addition to the plaque and banner, McHenry High School’s physical education department is going to be featured in the spring Illinois Journal, an association publication. Also, physical education teachers plan to make a presentation about McHenry High School’s program at an upcoming association conference.

Many things are considered in evaluating schools for a Blue Ribbon, including physical education curriculum, facility use, curriculum delivery and student involvement, association officials said.

For McHenry High School, the award is a culmination of a year-long endeavor that involved collaboration with East and West parents, students, teachers and administrators to show the physical education department is at the top of its game. And it is a recognition of a long-standing effort to inspire a love of physical activity in all students.

“It’s a long time in the making to get where we are,” said Jennifer Beattie, McHenry High School teacher and division chair for physical education, health and driver’s education. “Everyone deserves credit. It’s a team effort.”

Physical education teachers and administrators at both East and West applied for the award last fall by submitting a summary of the program, along with supporting materials, to highlight all of the ways they try to engage all students in physical activity and wellness. Before even applying, teachers had to be able to show that every student who could take physical education was enrolled in a daily course.

One of the criteria of an award-winning high school program is to show that no students are waived out of daily activity

That work culminated with an April 6 site visit by six evaluators from the association. Three evaluators went to East Campus and three went to West Campus.

They observed classes, talked to students and parents, and inspected facilities. Evaluators are teachers from other Blue Ribbon physical education programs.

“We look at everything,” said Fournier, a retired physical education teacher from south suburban Alsip. “It’s a very detailed process.”

Fournier, who was one of the six evaluators, said they were impressed with McHenry High School physical education department’s effort to get all students “to buy into how important it is to be physically active.” The fact that there are so many different options for physical education classes shows that educators are trying to appeal to all students, not just athletes, she said.

The strength and conditioning program at McHenry High School was also noted as “outstanding” by Blue Ribbon evaluators, Fournier said. Strength and fitness facilities at both East and West have been remodeled and upgraded, making them popular areas for students.

Fournier said association officials gave high marks for McHenry High School’s “Motivational Fridays” when students take turns giving talks to groups of peers about the importance of being active and physically fit. Since the on-site evaluation took place on a Friday, association officials got to see it first-hand.

“It was really cool,” Fournier said.

The strength and conditioning program is not only very popular with students, but it has drawn the interest of other high schools in the area, said John Beerbower, West Campus teacher and assistant division chair for physical education, health and driver’s education.

Beerbower, who helped spearhead the award application along with East teacher and assistant division chair Evan Kozlowski, said teachers and administrations from dozens of area schools have toured McHenry’s strength and conditioning facilities to learn more about the program.

In addition to strength and conditioning, students can also choose Fitness for Life classes, dance classes, aquatic fitness and lifeguarding as physical education coursework.

Offering so many options is part of an effort to appeal to all students to take advantage of opportunities to be physically active for life. Beerbower notes, “The P.E. Department has always promoted the benefits of fitness on brain function and academic success.”

All of the improvements in McHenry High School’s physical education program are a recognition that there is always room to get better. For example, three years ago the department made the shift to freshman-only physical education to give new ninth-graders an opportunity to learn about the importance of being active with their peers.

“Whenever our expectations increase, our kids keep meeting those expectations,” Kozlowski said. “P.E. has changed a lot.”

McHenry High School physical education teachers said they appreciate the willingness of students and their families to participate in the process along with teachers and administrators.

Adults, including parents, who participated are: East Principal Jeffry Prickett, West Principal Marsha Potthoff, and District 156 board President Gary Kinshofer. West parents Stephen Ford, Jackie Loeding, and East parents Chad Mahevic and Shelly Thennes also helped with the process.

The following is a list of students who participated in the Blue Ribbon process. Some students have graduated.


  • Liz Alsott, Strength    
  • Gavin Markgraff, Strength
  • Tabathan Swanson, Sr. PE Internship  
  • Madison Wray, PE Internship
  • Gracie Rybarczyk, PE Internship         
  • Jaylene Martinez, PE Leadership       
  • Alec Gasmann, PE Leadership       
  • Anayeli Arellano, Strength
  • Angelo Rios, Strength    
  • Patrick Briesch, Zero Hour
  • Kathy Nowak, Fitness for Life
  • Abigail Gorvett, Fitness for Life   
  • Kyle Hemphill, Lifeguarding               
  • Kaitlyn Disalvo, Dance
  • Jodie Cone, Dance       
  • Trevor Rockweiler, Freshman PE

From East:

  • Joe Mihevc , Senior PE Leader
  • Kinga Zeiba, Senior PE Leader
  • Vicky Garcia, Senior PE Leader
  • Madison McDaniel, Junior PE Leader
  • Dharma Garcia-Gomez, Junior PE Leaders
  • Kensie Schue, Strength
  • Katie Huff, Strength
  • Delaney Wellington, Strength
  • Riley Bruce, 10-12 PE  
  • Emily Bodecker, Fitness for Life
  • Madison Bartsch, Fitness for Life   
  • Alyssa Ramirez, Fitness for Life   
  • Alaina Bailey, Fitness for Life   
  • Denise Beyer, Strength    
  • Maddie Brinkman, Strength    
  • Brent Anderlik, Freshman PE    
  • Anthony Forte, 10-12 PE  
  • Kaehler Russell, 10-12 PE