On Dec. 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan, officially entering World War II. Over the course of the next 45 months, wartime efforts consumed the country. One of the earliest initiatives worked to combat a problem that seemed to pervade all regions of the country: America’s would-be soldiers were badly out of shape.
According to the Sept. 13, 1942 Sunday edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times, “The emphasis that the war effort has placed on the problem of conditioning men for the armed forces, has resulted in a far-reaching program to correct some of the ‘softness’ that has been encountered among the selectees, through more attention to physical education in the high schools.”
Both Asheville and Buncombe County schools partook of the new physical fitness programs introduced throughout the country. Candler High School Principal Frank C. Hill underwent a monthlong training session in Chapel Hill, where he learned “the latest methods used in conditioning men for the strenuous business of war,” the paper reported.
After his training, Hill conducted a three-day boot camp at Lee Edwards High School (later renamed Asheville High School), instructing teachers, coaches and staff in the program’s featured exercises.
These new courses were specifically designed for junior and senior boys, the paper reported, with a particular effort “to get the type of student who has heretofore been known as ‘bookish’ or ‘non-athletic’ to participate in the new program, the reason being that this is the student who needs this work the most.”
On Oct. 11, 1942, the Sunday edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times featured a series of photographs from Candler High School’s new obstacle course. According to the write-up, 55 boys took part in the physical fitness program each day. “Running the 660-yard course is part of the program, and the 22 obstacles give the students a real work out,” the paper noted. Some of the course’s specific drills included an inverted “V” ladder, rope swing, jungle climb and 10-foot wall scale.
The following month, members of the Girls’ “A” Club at Lee Edwards High School joined in the campaign by renaming their group the Physical Fitness Corps. Among the organization’s many purposes, declared the Nov. 1 Sunday edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times, “is to promote ideals of health, to promote service to the community in the war effort, [and] to encourage training to aid in the war effort[.]”
As the academic year came to an end, students at Canton High School concluded their physical training program with a ceremonial Saturday morning jog. In total, 13 students, along with their coach C.C. Poindexter, ran 25 miles from Canton to Asheville. According to the May 2, 1943, Sunday edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times, “All boys made the trip and were in good condition, except for a few sore muscles and tired feet.”
In addition to physical fitness programs, students across the nation were also actively involved in selling war bonds, as well as participating in various initiatives, including a model aircraft project.
On May 5, 1943, The Asheville Citizen reported that 30 students from Stephens-Lee (Asheville’s former all-black high school), crafted 20 such models, including American, British, Russian, German, Italian and Japanese planes. The designs were eventually sent to the Navy.
“Each is painted black in order that the persons studying them will learn to distinguish the plane by its shape and distinctive features rather than by a color scheme,” the article reported. “During the past two years, accurate scale-model aircraft have proved a highly successful training device for teaching recognition.”
The Asheville Citizen went on to praise the Stephens-Lee group for their “amazing workmanship,” noting that the students “show rightful pride in their work and plan to continue with the project as long as the fighting services need model planes.”
Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.