Missourians, get your feet apart and your arms up in the air: Jumping jacks are now the state exercise.
Gov. Jay Nixon signed House Bill 1603 into law Thursday morning. Henceforth (starting Aug. 28, to get technical) jumping jacks “shall be known as the official exercise of the state of Missouri.”
Nixon was not likely to comment, an aide said. The legislation ended up on his desk after clearing the state House and Senate last spring.
But even without any official hoopla — or a photo op, say, of the governor jumping up and down on the Capitol steps — supporters exulted in their hard-fought victory.
Many of those supporters over the past six years have been kids at John J. Pershing Elementary in St. Joseph. Pershing, the Missouri-born Army general who led American forces in World War I, is credited with inventing jumping jacks as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
He’s also, of course, the namesake of Kansas City’s Pershing Road, which runs along the north side of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.
In case you haven’t been keeping track, the Show-Me State now has more than two dozen official thingies — “symbols” is the official term — including state insect (the honeybee), state aquatic animal (the paddle- fish), state grass (big bluestem) and state dessert (the ice cream cone, which debuted at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904).
Other states have their own symbols, but apparently just one besides Missouri has an official exercise. That would be Maryland, which officially endorses … walking. Ho-hum.
To advance their calisthenics cause, Pershing Elementary students testified before General Assembly committees and personally lobbied legislators, handing out buttons and brochures.
“It was a lot of hard work for those kids, so I think they’ll be grateful to know that it’s finally happened,” said Pershing fourth-grade teacher Kristy Lorenz.
“They just couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t see the same thing they saw.”
State Rep. Pat Conway, a St. Joseph Democrat who introduced the bill five times on behalf of the kids, said that what might have made the difference this year was presenting the legislation as a way of honoring Pershing and all war veterans.
This year marks the centennial of the beginning of World War I.
“The other side of it is, I have six classes of fourth-graders who know more about the legislative process than probably any kids their age in the state,” Conway said of the tenacious Pershing students.
“They’re going to have a very firm grasp of how government works, at least in Jefferson City.”
Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Northland Republican, spoke against the jumping jacks bill during a debate that the St. Joseph fourth-graders got to see.
Silvey said he respected the kids’ efforts. But “I don’t know that we need to be adding to the statutes as a civics lesson,” he said, unless it’s a “legitimate public policy issue.”
Silvey describes himself as “kinda the Grinch of state symbols.” He votes against new ones.
The breaking point for him came several years ago when lawmakers spent an hour debating the designation of a state mushroom.
As for jumping jacks, at least two Pershing biographies state that long before the native son of Laclede, Mo., became a general, he invented a version of jumping jacks. As a West Point cadet captain in 1885, he used the exercise to haze younger cadets.
Pershing was “a champion at deviling plebes,” one biographer wrote.
It’s not exactly a warm and fuzzy anecdote, but then again, warm and fuzzy people rarely become top generals. And almost never do they inspire an official state exercise.
To reach Tim Engle, call 816-234-4779 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.