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updated: 2/24/2012 2:37 PM

Sports Saturdays help keep kids active

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By Jeff Long

Fox Valley Park District

The Kids Fitness Fun Fair held last weekend at the Vaughan Athletic Center was a huge success. Hundreds of families and even more kids participated in the free event, and the adrenaline level was amazing.

An estimated 2.2 million calories were burned -- that's a lot of energy.

But it's only the beginning. Kids today are smart enough to know that fitness -- like everything else worth achieving -- takes commitment. Exercise is not a chore. It is a lifestyle to embrace, and by incorporating fun activities, their routine is enjoyable and something to look forward to each day.

To keep this important message at the forefront, the Fox Valley Park District works in partnership with local middle schools to promote its Fit-for-Kids after-school workout programs in conjunction with the Making Kane County Fit for Kids campaign.

Fox Valley has also taken the lead on its Let's Get Moving initiative that encourages students to make physical activity a priority each day while eating healthy -- it's a 1-2 combination of good habits.

And, during January and February, the park district runs its Sports Saturday program that provides free gym access and activities for elementary schoolchildren at six different sites.

It all traces back to the mission at hand, to emphasize the importance of fitness to our kids and teach them of its importance and the long-term benefits it produces. Whereas my generation spent all day at the park playing baseball and basketball and soccer, today's kids spend an average of six hours per day on sedentary activities (mostly video games and TV), according to

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends children partake in at least 60 minutes of physical activity -- daily! In today's world, that can be a challenge.

The park district takes that message straight to the schools to point kids on the road to fitness as they begin their journey through life. Staff members and personal trainers from the Vaughan Center visit schools on a weekly basis to demonstrate a workout circuit program and educate them on the importance of daily exercise.

It's all about creating awareness and providing opportunities to make the message stick.

"Collaborating with the schools allows us to work directly with the students on a regular basis, and that really helps us get them involved and committed," said Debbie Smith, Fox Valley's community outreach manager who oversees the park district' many after-school programs.

A good example would be the after-school tennis program Smith began in 2000 in which tennis instructors visit local schools to "recruit" students who then enroll in a six-week (one hour per week) instructional program for only $5 (yes, $5!). "Participation has been huge!" said Smith.

And that's the whole idea -- plant the seed of fitness in our children and nurture them as their healthy habits become a lifestyle. Their world will be a happier place. We can all raise a sports drink toast to that.

• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at