Arnold "Kindergarten Cop" Schwarzenegger, the man who turned swollen muscles into a movie career, descended on a real-life, if star-struck, Maryland elementary school yesterday with some hard words for soft kids: Shape up -- or else.
"Youth fitness in this country is in terrible shape," warned Mr. Schwarzenegger, who serves as chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. "And it is deteriorating. It is going downhill at a very rapid rate."
The former competitive bodybuilder blamed lax school systems, uninvolved parents and the proliferation of junk food for the increasingly flabby juvenile set.
He said he was in the midst of touring all 50 states to persuade politicians, educators and parents to take action.
"At the states, we hear about budget problems. You talk to the parents and they say, 'We're both working and we don't have time for our children,' " Mr. Schwarzenegger said. "To say, 'We don't have themoney,' is a simple excuse. What it takes is the will."
To demonstrate his own enthusiasm for fitness, Mr. Schwarzenegger pumped up with a group of fifth-graders exercising in the multipurpose room at Millersville Elementary School in Anne Arundel County.
Later, he preached to a crowd of more than 400 children and adults who gathered outside the school to catch a glimpse of the star of suchmuscle-flexing, action-packed hits as "Total Recall," "The Terminator," "Conan The Barbarian" and "Predator."
"Oh my God, I touched him. I touched him," swooned Lauren Garside, 11, of Crownsville after Mr. Schwarzenegger brushed past her.
Shannon Ostiguy, 10, of Crownsville dragged both her parents to the school one hour before the star's appearance so that she could be as close as possible. "I made them come," Miss Ostiguy said. "[But] they both wanted to see him, too."
Indeed, school officials saw more parents yesterday than at most PTA meetings. Even the students did not have to be there -- it was a schoolholiday for teacher training.
The enthusiastic crowd "oohed" and "ahhed" at the appropriate places, and some of the pre-teens girls even screamed -- at a piercingly high pitch befitting a movie idol.
"Our teachers kept cool through the whole thing. I was surprised," said Millersville Principal Henry Shubert. "A couple of them started giggling, but that was it."
After first having breakfast with Gov. William Donald Schaefer in Annapolis, Mr. Schwarzenegger arrived at the school in the company of tennis pro Pam Shriver, a fellow fitness council member, and Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, a former professional basketball player.
All three worked out with physical education teacher Rick Wiles and his class of 10-year-olds -- even the congressman, who wore his white shirt, tie, dark blue slacks and loafers.
"Stay away from drugs, alcohol, tobacco and especially junk food," Mr. Schwarzenegger preached to the students. "If you insist on watching TV all night, do some exercises during the break. Instead of running to the refrigerator and stuffing your face with junk food, do some sit-ups or jumping jacks."
The star was surrounded by television cameras and reporters for most of his hourlong visit, much to the bewilderment of the students who had never witnessed such a media blitz.
"It was really wild. Here comes Arnold with those big old muscles," said 10-year-old Donnie Korbach, one of the students who got to exercise with Mr. Schwarzenegger. "There were girls in front screaming. It hurt your ears."
Fellow fifth-grader Milton Tyler said this was the first time he had a celebrity hold his ankles while he was doing "sit and reach" calisthenics.
"It was fun," said classmate Brandon Armstrong. "I was nervous with all the cameras taking pictures of us all the time."
In a brief talk with reporters, Mr. Schwarzenegger said he was distressed by statistics indicating that more than half of U.S. children show some cardiac risk factor and that many cannot run a mile in less than 10 minutes. He said he enjoys fatherhood and that his pregnant wife, former TV news anchorwoman Maria Shriver, has no plans to go back to work. "I don't think I'd ever have the power to take her away from my little daughter," he said.
But the question of the day was offered by a television reporter who asked Governor Schaefer whether he was "thinking about getting involved in dumbbells now that you've met Mr. Schwarzenegger?"
"Whoa," said Mr. Schaefer, who earlier confessed his only daily exercise was pushing away from the dinner table. "I'm not going to answer that."
A red-faced Mr. Schwarzenegger, the man who has wiped out his share of aliens, barbarians and bad guys on the big screen with far less provocation, just laughed.