A.J. Flick, of South Williamsport, is just like any vibrant 12-year-old.
Not only does he want to have fun, he’d like to be healthier and as fit as he can be as he enters his teenage years.
Flick was among the swarms of students jumping, leaping, tumbling, throwing dodge balls, wrapped in Hula-Hoops, shooting basketballs and dancing at the seventh annual Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition Fitness Challenge kickoff Monday night.
The packed Pickelner Arena at the YMCA, 320 Elmira St., was abuzz with students ages 3 to 15 representing eight area public school districts and Lycoming-Clinton Head Start.
“I’d like to live longer, better and healthier,” said Flick, son of Mindy and Jaime Flick.
Kathie Sinibaldi, coalition outreach director, said it’s all about tackling the growing obesity rate among children. For instance, a nutritional component was added two years ago.
Sinibaldi’s 11-year-old son, Peter, acknowledged he sometimes eats apples, peaches, oranges and some vegetables.
Nutritional benefits of dairy products were presented at a booth manned by representatives of Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association and sharing the life altering benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables were part of the work by Kegal’s Produce, of Lancaster.
“We’re really challenging them to eat healthier and be more active,” Sinibaldi said.
“This is great,” said Rodney Morgans, a teacher and part of the Williamsport Recreation Commission, a group of volunteers who meet monthly at City Hall to find ways to improve all aspects of the city’s recreational activities.
“I think it allows the kids to show respect for each other and gets them involved with children from other schools,” Morgans said.
The floor’s activities included students riding tricycles and trying to balance on the Trikke, a vehicle that operates by the rider standing and pressing down on pedals and shifting his or her weight.
“It’s my first time here,” said Zoie Markley, 11, who is the daughter of Selena Markley and Troy Walker. Markley, who attends Lycoming Valley Middle School, took a break from riding to talk about what she considered to be best about the fitness challenge.
“They have a whole bunch of activities that you usually can’t do on a regular basis,” Markley said.
Stephen Bryan, of the group Kohl’s Cares, representing the department store, said his job was to keep a watchful eye on the children as they rode around the course on the tricycles.
One of the most popular events – dodgeball – had two teams whipping soft rubber balls at each other and skirting to avoid getting hit.
Upstairs, a class was doing Zumba, a popular dance considered a prime aerobic exercise for any age.
Another hit with tykes was the inflatables, allowing the kids to use their muscles and bounce.
Brian Zysset, a senior at Lock Haven University who is studying health and physical education, oversaw the basketball courts.
Sinibaldi said the popularity of the event is growing through word of mouth at schools.
Throughout the six-week program, which started Monday and runs through Feb. 19, students are awarded one point for every minute of activity they do, which is doubled if a family members joins in with them. The students also receive one point for every serving of a fruit or vegetable they eat.
Points are tallied at home and again at school and students will be awarded prizes for reaching healthy levels in both categories.
Prizes are given out for the top school building with the most participation.
“It’s grown,” Sinibaldi said. Last year’s attendance broke 7,300 students, who logged in more than 60,611 hours of after-school activity and consumed more than 148,043 servings of fruits and vegetables.
To date, more than 30,440 students and their families have participated, registering a total of 314 minutes. They’ve also recorded consuming more than 242,484 servings of fruits or vegetables.
The culmination of all the effort will be part of an awards ceremony in March when the top students from the participating school districts will be recognized. The top three students with a combined fitness and nutritional point total from each school building will be noted. In addition to the top three students, awards will be presented to the top five students and the top school building.
One student will be presented with the “Impact Award,” a student who has embraced the ideals and goals of the fitness challenge and decided to incorporate them into a healthier lifestyle.