Officials, students dedicate new fitness equipment

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 6, 2006

State and local officials and hundreds of students ushered in aprogram designed to promote health and fitness among the youthThursday in project launches at several area schools.

Lipsey Middle School, Brookhaven Elementary School, BrookhavenAcademy and Wesson Attendance Center were chosen to participate ina two-year Project Fit America curriculum-based pilot program topromote physical fitness among students.

King’s Daughters Medical Center partnered with Blue Cross BlueShield of Mississippi to acquire a $93,500 grant to bring the”above ground fitness center” equipment and its curriculum to theschools.

Launch ceremonies began on the lawn of KDMC and continued asstate and local officials participated in other ceremonies at eachof the participating campuses. Officials watched demonstrations ofthe equipment by students, who were eager to show how well theycould use it.

“This is only the second Project Fit America installation in thestate of Mississippi,” said Wade Overstreet, director of thestate’s Blue Cross Blue Shield division, during program launchceremonies at the hospital Thursday morning.

The first project was built in the Desoto County SchoolDistrict, said Johnny Rainer, KDMC’s chief development officer.

Overstreet said Mississippi places in the bottom of rankingsevaluating health and obesity among residents, but “it’s easy toget bogged down in statistics.”

“Today is about preventing all the statistics we read about,” hesaid.

Brookhaven Elementary School Principal Pam Fern said she expectsthe program to have a major impact in the youth.

“One of the goals of Project Fit America is to provideopportunities for our students to be active and fit in an everydayschool environment,” she said. “This project is going to benefitnot only the students there now, but for many, many years.”

Brookhaven Academy Headmaster Dr. Miller Hammill agreed.

“Most schools have one mission statement – total studentdevelopment. Often, we forget the physical part in our efforts toimprove academics,” he said.

Brookhaven Academy is the only private school in the stateselected to participate in the pilot program, which speaks volumesabout the quality of the school, Overstreet said.

A student from each school was asked to speak at the morninglaunch ceremony.

BA’s Jacob Ross said people needed to stop fixating onappearance and concentrate on health.

“Today, we live in a society obsessed with body size rather thanhealth,” he said. “A healthy body has nothing to do with size orappearance.”

Dallas Jackson, a Wesson sophomore, said she has a personalstake in the success of the program. The equipment is designed tohelp prevent obesity and its related illnesses, such as diabetes,high blood pressure and heart disease. Her family medical historyincludes all three.

“Many people have a number of excuses about why they can’t livea healthy lifestyle. However, no one has a valid excuse with theresources available to us today,” she said.

Physical education teachers at each school were also given theopportunity to express their appreciation for the program.

Hugh Webb, a PE instructor at Wesson, related a story of how theequipment has already affected some students’ lives after only afew weeks. One introspective boy had low self-esteem because hewasn’t an athlete and did not rank high academically. Now, however,he is champion of the horizontal bars and his self-esteem hasskyrocketed.

“These seven stations are not easy and it is certainly anachievement to master them,” Webb said.

Rainer said Brookhaven can help set a standard for the state infitness and health. A successful program here can herald similarprograms throughout the state.

“Hopefully, we can demonstrate that this is not only a goodthing for Brookhaven, but also for other schools in the state,” hesaid.