Team tries to keep youths active

Running: Patterson Park group promotes exercise and healthy eating during the summer.

August 05, 2004|By Lester J. Davis | Lester J. Davis,SUN STAFF

At first, Ethan Long didn't pay much attention to the children who would run alongside him during his daily jogs through Patterson Park.

"They're just having fun," he said he thought, then noticed that the runners showed up day after day. Sparked by their dedication, Long came up with the idea for the Patterson Park Track Team, a program to promote exercise and healthy eating habits for children 8 to 14 years old.

Since the program began June 24, for one hour each Thursday, beginning at 6 p.m., nearly 40 youngsters have run relays, completed long jumps and practiced their sprinting up and down the hills of Patterson Park.

Long, a competitive runner, said that during the summer, many children forget the importance of physical activity and healthy eating.

"A lot of kids are not as active as you'd want them to be, and that could be because they are playing video games," Long said. The practices, which end Aug. 12, are free. Runners are provided with water during and after practice and are given a snack, usually a granola bar and a piece of fruit, after each workout.

Practices usually start with five minutes of stretching led by one of the program's coaches. Next, children break off into two groups, one consisting of children older than 10, the other children 10 and younger.

And that's when the fun begins, said 13-year-old Dialo Watson, who's been involved with the program since the first week.

"I like running around the whole park," Dialo said, referring to the quick warm-up jog each runner takes during the beginning of practice. "I've lost a couple of pounds already," he said, flexing his arm into a muscle.

During a recent workout, 15 young runners showed up at the park.

John Lundquist, an adult-education teacher, led the group of older runners through a series of leg-strengthening drills.

"Get 'em up high," Lundquist told the group. "You guys feel that burn?" he asked. Meanwhile, Diego, Dialo's twin brother, nearly tripped over a young runner who couldn't keep her balance and tumbled to the ground.

William Hicks, 11, said he enjoys the program because it is different from the typical basketball- and football-filled summer days.

"It's fun because we get to run races and stuff," he said. "The coaches are all nice, and if they go too hard, you can tell them to slow down," William said.

Lundquist, who lives in Southeast Baltimore, said he was pleasantly surprised when so many children came to the park on the first day. "I wasn't sure what to expect," he said. "The idea of a running team is ... not as easy a sell as a football or basketball team that's on TV all the time."

Lundquist said parental support is another reason the program has flourished. He said there have been parents who have come to practice with their children each week and that some have even participated in exercise drills.

The program wrapped up its sixth week last Thursday and will hold an end-of-the-season practice Aug. 12. Long said the coaches are planning to have the last two weeks of the program mimic the track-and-field events of the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

The track team has a $690 budget. The money came from a grant from the Banner Neighborhoods Community Corp., and the 5K Specialty Running & Walking store donated 30 water bottles.

Long, project director for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, a nonprofit organization, said the costs of running the program are relatively low. Its future depends on the children's enthusiasm.

"If at the end of this program we get a good core of kids who want to continue, we would consider offering something in the fall or spring," Long said.

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