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EdWeek Bloggers Tackle Youth Obesity, Value of Sports

Schooled in Sports might be the only blog entirely devoted to K-12 sports on edweek.org, but as this past week proves, it's not the only place that you'll find coverage of issues surrounding youth athletics and childhood obesity.

Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal and the author of the Finding Common Ground opinion blog, published a blog post yesterday about the importance of team sports, citing virtues such as teamwork, determination, and respect—virtues often best learned on the field of competition.

DeWitt says the greatest benefit of joining a sports team is the possibility of having a good coach—one who cares more about preparing their student-athletes for the future than winning.

Sweeney, Underwood, and Mulson were my coaches as I went from cross country to track in high school and college. ... They were not intimidated to tell the whole team when they thought we were out of line or disrespectful. One particular night we learned not to swear when Underwood called us "sewer mouths," and I remember being embarrassed that he had to have the conversation in the back of the bus. I never wanted to disappoint him that way again.

You've likely heard the argument that "sports teaches positive life values" before, but DeWitt doesn't shy away from it.

"Teamwork, determination, failure, winning, and respect are just a few of the qualities a good team possesses," he says. Those qualities rub off on student-athletes on said teams.

DeWitt highlights struggling learners as a population of students who can especially benefit from school sports.

"Teams and coaches can help build the self-esteem that gets lost when a student is struggling. In addition, it may help create an incentive for a struggling learner to work harder in the classroom so they can perform out on the field."

While studies have linked physical activity to academic gains in students in the past, DeWitt's point about confidence isn't echoed nearly as often. Sometimes, all that separates a struggling learner from an academic enthusiast is a tiny jolt of confidence from the right source.

One Teacher's Battle With Obesity

Marilyn Rhames, a Chicago-based science teacher and the author of the Charting My Own Course opinion blog on Education Week Teacher, confronted her own obesity problem in a very public forum this week: her own blog post.

There, I said it: I'm 5'7'' and 198 pounds. That makes me a good 30 pounds overweight. My supportive husband calls me "voluptuous," but my middle school Advisory students say I'm "chunky." My mother calls me "healthy" and "big boned," but my girlfriends tell me I've got a lot of "junk in my trunk." Call it whatever you like, but with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol in my family tree, I know I need to increase my level of fitness, which also entails losing weight.

Rhames works at a health and wellness school that provides students with nearly 300 minutes of gym class per week. The school, founded seven years ago, was created "not only to provide a high-quality urban education to Chicago youth, but to combat the growing problem of childhood obesity."

Needless to say, being an overweight teacher in such an environment could be ... um, awkward.

Rhames appears to be making the best of it, though.

"Having an overweight teacher at such a health-conscience school is not ironic. It's realistic. ... My students can relate to my private temptations with chocolate cake and potato chips because most of them struggle with it, too."

Now, Rhames has the opportunity to lead by example. By focusing on her health in such a public, transparent way, her students can gain an appreciation of the importance of staying physically fit and healthy.

Earlier this month, her school signed up for the eight-week Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) challenge, which calls for adults to commit to 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week. Rhames "wasn't required to sign up, but did it because [she] felt [she] needed to."

By hanging her exercise log up on her classroom bulletin board, she's allowing her students to hold her accountable for her fitness goals. It's a wonder that more overweight teachers aren't trying similar tactics to simultaneously motivate themselves and their students to lead healthier, more active lives.

But for Rhames, at least one topic remains off-limits from students: questions about her age.

Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.

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