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Cheney students vie to lose weight, get fit

Mike Fisher strains to pull his team Friday at Cheney High School. The team was leading in the
Mike Fisher strains to pull his team Friday at Cheney High School. The team was leading in the "Best Blackhawk" program, where students earn points and compete while losing weight and getting into shape. (Photos by Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

Students at Cheney High School don’t have to sit on the couch to watch the next episode of “The Biggest Loser.”

The teens in the fitness center classes are starring in their own version of the reality weight-loss television program.

During “Best Blackhawk,” though, there are no cameras, and nobody gets voted off or has to stand on a scale in front of their peers to be weighed in each week. But the goal is the same: Get fit, and lose weight.

“I watch ‘The Biggest Loser,’ and it makes me cry every week,” said teacher April Arland. “These kids have bought into it and are working amazingly hard.”

Like the TV show, Cheney students are divided into teams and go through a series of physical challenges each week. On Friday, students raced along the football field loading and hauling bales of hay on a cart, from one end to the other, then up a hill. During previous challenges, they’ve rolled a monster truck tire end-over-end along the school’s 400-meter track and hauled sod to replace turf on the fields behind the school.

“Students who wouldn’t normally enjoy P.E. are coming to class every day,” Arland said. “There’s nobody complaining; there’s nobody that wants to sit out.”

Absenteeism has dropped from five or six students each day to two or fewer, and nearly every student has experienced some physical improvement.

“I can’t think of a single person in this class who hasn’t lost weight,” said junior Kendle Breeden. “This is something I just don’t want to miss. I come to school every day for this class.”

Arland said she was looking for ways to engage all students in physical fitness when she thought of the show. Nationwide, teens as a group are becoming more sedentary. According to the Centers for Disease Control, since 1980 the percentage of overweight or obese teens ages 12 to 19 years old has tripled.

While the daily class does have routine activities – students use the equipment in the fitness center for circuit training and strength training during the week – they also incorporate a variety of different games and ideas.

Each team is assigned a student coach, who talks with students about what kinds of physical activity they want to do, and then turns in a lesson plan to Arland. “They’ve played four-square, danced, played kickball,” she said.

On Fridays, Arland and the P.E. staff surprise the students with the team physical challenges. Winning teams earn points toward an eventual reward at the end of the year.

Every student filled out a personal fitness portfolio at the beginning of the trimester in September, and each student has a personal weigh-in every four weeks to see how they are progressing.

But most students don’t care about the chart that says they lost a few pounds. They’re having fun with the competitions. In addition to winning challenges, students also get points for dressing in their team colors. Arland divided up the kids based on their fitness levels, then assigned them to teams so that every group would have fit and not-so-fit kids – even classmates they’ve never met.

“You have to learn to work with other people,” said David Vredevelt, 15.

“I watch a lot of ‘Survivor,’ ” said classmate Paul Grinder, 15. “So this is that same kind of thing with team challenges. It’s a lot of fun.”

Grinder signed up for a regular aerobics class next trimester but plans to switch so he can be in the “Best Blackhawk” again for his first period of the day.

“It used to be that I would wake up and have to do P.E.,” Grinder said. “Now it’s like, I get to do P.E.”