Acting Assistant Secretary of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services for the United States Department of Education Michael Yudin joined a crowd of more than 1,000 students, teachers, and parents in Marana, Ariz., on September 11, in an effort to bring healthy habits back to America’s schools through the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Active Schools (LMAS) initiative.
Yudin greeted an ecstatic student body at a pep assembly hosted inside Marana Middle School’s (MMS) gymnasium on Wednesday and was supported by members of the town of Marana and 17 school wellness coordinators from each school in the Marana Unified School District. After being introduced by Marana Middle School principal Kristin Reidy, Yudin congratulated the school for joining LMAS and spoke of MMS’s strong push to keep both students and community members active. Yudin supported the school’s efforts to be healthy, commenting that after school opportunities such as an open gym, cardio and weight rooms, and various family-oriented athletic programs make Marana unique. He then continued by praising Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative, encouraging every school in rest of the district to join along with MMS in hopes of becoming only the second district in the entire U.S. to accomplish such a feat.
Michael Yudin spoke proudly as the crowd of students filled the gym with enthusiasm.
“Active kids do better. It’s that simple,” he stated. “You feel better about yourself, you can focus, and you can learn more.”
Yudin’s strong remarks left a lasting impact on the students, staff, and parents of Marana; however, he was not alone in his efforts. The entire audience rose to their feet as they welcomed four special guests to the pep rally. John Fina, a former NFL offensive lineman, University of Arizona Hall of Famer, and an advocate for the Fuel Up and Play 60 program, was welcomed with a roar of enthusiasm. Following Fina, the University of Arizona’s women’s basketball head coach, Niya Butts, entered the gym and immediately brought the crowd to their feet with her undeniable energy and enthusiasm. Following Butts was a retired coach from the U of A, considered a legend by most Arizonans, 1997 NCAA Championship men’s basketball head coach, champion Lute Olsen. The 78-year-old, considered a celebrity in the Marana area, greeted a star-struck audience that welcomed him with cheers.
The other celebrity guest introduced was three-time All American wrestler and 2010-2011, 125-pound eight class NCAA champion Anthony Robles. The 25-year-old wrestler is a recipient of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, a wrestling analyst for ESPN, and the newest member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. However, the most intriguing and inspiring aspect of this young man is the fact that he has accomplished every feat with only one leg. Born without a limb, Robles crossed the gym floor on crutches as hundreds of exuberant students cheered for him.
The guests each were given a chance to speak, expressing their undying support for physical activity. Coach Butts emphasized the need to take action in an effort to be healthy.
“It’s not just about talking of being active, or talking about eating healthy. It’s about what we do,” she told the crowd of nearly 1,100. Coach Butts emphasized that actions speak louder than words, saying, “What [we] do speaks so loudly that others cannot hear what [we] say.”
Robles also added to the discussion, congratulating MMS on being one of the first schools to sign up for LMAS in the nation.
“It’s inspiring to me and that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “To be inspired, to get out there, move around, and wrestle obesity out of this country.”
After the guests spoke, Principal Reidy challenged MMS along with all 16 other schools in the district to have each of their students participate in 60 minutes of physical activity for 60 consecutive days. Each student willingly rose to the challenge by way of applause and immediately began with a competitive dance and relay race involving both students and their parents. Hula hoops, footballs, scooters, basketballs, roller blades, and even stilts were used to get kids moving as they joined in the fun.
After the athletic competitions ended, students, staff, and parents exited the gym while dancing along to the beat of popular music; however, several students stayed to meet their new heroes. Robles, Fina, Olsen, and Butts stayed and offered to pose for pictures and sign autographs. The guests spent extra time getting to know the students and talked with them personally about the importance of maintaining good health. Robles even stayed to visit classrooms after the event.
“I loved being able to meet and talk to [the guests],” said Makayla Barrett, a seventh grader at Marana Middle School. “It was awesome to learn about how important it is to be active from them.”
Parents and teachers were also supportive of LMAS’s program and its effect on the Marana community. Kevin Corner, football coach and teacher at Marana Middle School, completely supported the First Lady’s initiative to create a nation of active youth.
“To have a movement at a national level that supports what we have right here [in Marana] is tremendous,” he said.
Parent Stephanie Ashcraft also expressed her appreciation, saying, “It’s great to see the community come together and rally around [LMAS]. Everyone can tell that the kids are really excited to take on the challenge to be active.”
The sense of excitement from students and staff alike was astonishing. Every student was on his or her feet in full support to make a change. Kids such as Devin Giordano were inspired by the challenge and have a new desire to motivate themselves for greatness.
“I admit that I’m not too active, but after being a part of this I plan to do a lot more [exercise],” he said.
Devin and countless other students took the 60-day challenge on that day and were inspired to be more active.
“What was really amazing was that the kids really understood it,” said Fina. “They were attentive and they were really active, too. This is what our country needs right now. We all need to rally around something like this that is good for everyone. The Let’s Move! Campaign is perfect for that.”
Riley Heflin is a student at Marana High School, Marana Ariz.
Marana Unified School District is a 2010 Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grantee.