Fit for life: Funding gives program running start

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By John Barnhart

The target for fitness is 225 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

YMCA executive director Mary Jo Boone noted, Friday, that although that's the goal, the national trend among youth is downward for physical activity and upward for obesity. The Carol M. White Physical Education Grant, a federal grant funded by Congress, is intended to combat that.

The Bedford Area YMCA and Bedford County Public Schools jointly received one of these, worth more than $700,000 over three years. This was the only one given in Virginia this year and only four YMCAs, nationwide, received one. Boone said the other three Y's were in major metropolitan areas.

"We were awarded the total amount requested," Boone said to a gathering held Friday in the YMCA's gym.

Boone said the obesity statistics among Bedford area teens follow the national average. Between 25 percent and 30 percent of school aged youth are overweight, and obesity related health problems are cropping up. There are 48 diabetic children in Bedford County's public schools, a figure that has dramatically risen in recent years. School nurses monitor some children's blood pressure during the school day.

According to Boone, the YMCA's fit for life program is intended to provide fun, innovative physical activities.

"This is a great day for Bedford," commented District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry. "I will guarantee 100 percent that I will be behind this program."

Lowry also thanked Congressman Virgil Goode, who attended the celebration. Congress funds the program that produces the grants.

According to Dr. Bobbie Johnson, Don Toms, the school division's instructional consultant, approached her with the idea of partnering with the YMCA to see if students could use the Y's resources.

"These are resources we can't put in 22 schools," Dr. Johnson said.

She said that Toms, the phys ed teachers and the YMCA came up with the plan.

"It ended up being a wonderful partnership," she said.

"It was part of my job," commented Toms, after the program. "Actually, I had a parent who suggested we do something more than just throw out a ball."

Toms said it's been a success. Students who normally won't participate in phys ed classes will do activities in this program.

"The difference I noticed is that kids are really excited about physical education," added Dr. Cherie Whitehurst, Liberty High School's principal.

The pilot program started last year with Liberty High School's ninth grade. By the end of the year, it had expanded to Staunton River High School, who use the Moneta YMCA.