Boys & Girls High School hosted the Children's Sports and Fitness Expo last Saturday afternoon. Professional instructors taught kids about basketball, archery, and other sports. The health pavilion offered vision, dental, hearing and asthma screenings, as well as nutrition and weight.
Body Sculpt of New York organized the annual event. The group, founded by body builder Vince Ferguson, is an organization dedicated to educating children and their parents about childhood obesity, and to teach nutrition and physical fitness.
The group started in Harlem, where they held their first expo almost a decade ago. Eight years later, the main location for the event is in Brooklyn because so many people were coming from there to join in.
The main motivation for the expos, according to Ferguson, is the obesity epidemic. The condition affects an alarming number of children throughout New York City and the percentages in Brooklyn are even higher.
"Children are our future," Ferguson said. "We're all real role models. We need to show them, not just tell them, how to take care of themselves."
Ferguson cited a study that was in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005, stating that children may have shorter life expectancies than their parents because of childhood obesity.
"It was a call to action," said Ferguson. "It's that important."
As a former bodybuilder and a certified trainer, Ferguson has extensive experience with keeping fit and staying healthy. When he got out of the Navy twenty years ago, there was a major focus on drug prevention.
"Even then, I thought fitness was the key," he said.
He explained that fitness and sports were used as a way to keep kids away from drugs. Ironically, fitness is now being used for its original purpose: to keep kids fit.
Volunteers for the organization are a major part of that goal becoming a reality. Lisa Howard has been with the group for the past eight years, volunteering in various capacities as she's needed, and she shares Ferguson's goal of keeping America fit.
"Everything here today is related to fitness," said Howard of the expo, shouting over the marching band that played in the early afternoon. Even this musical display was a demonstration of exercise: Howard explained that the band would be marching around underneath the tent to keep active. "It's all about movement," she said.
Maintaining health while keeping fit was stressed as equally important at the expo, as evidenced by the health pavilion, where participants could have their blood pressure taken and learn about their Body Mass Index. Edward Gray of the American Heart Association was teaching kids how to save a life.
"It's very important [to know CPR], especially in a community dealing with minorities where the eating habits aren't very good and there's a lack of exercise which can lead to having a heart attack," said Gray. "This information is very important for the community, so it's useful to learn about this and blood pressure."
A light rain didn't put a stop to all of the sports available for kids to learn, as instructors brought their jump ropes, hula hoops and obstacles courses under the roof of the health pavilion to continue the activities. Others weren't so lucky; Coach Larry Brown had to put his bows and arrows away and take a break from archery.
Coach Brown's sport was just one of many uncommon sports that were available for kids to participate in. According to Ferguson, one of the specific goals of this year's expo was to expose children to activities they may not have tried before such as tennis, fencing and of course, archery.
"Very rarely do you find archery in public schools," said Coach Brown, who left Columbia University's archery team seven years ago to teach archery in the New York Public School system. "It gets kids using their motor skills instead of being sedentary and punching their thumbs," he said, miming the action of text messaging.
With the help of three experienced archers (all three teenagers, two still in high school), Coach Brown helped children of all ages set up their bows and aim at the target. The instructors, sophomore Carlysle (CJ) Brackin, senior Enrique Perez and recently-graduated Tyler Lowther have all been doing archery for at least four years each, and it is clearly evident how much they each appreciate the sport.
"It's a sport open to everyone," Perez said. "You don't have to be a particular size and it's addictive."
Archery is often viewed as a more passive sport, but the three instructors jump quickly to its defense and make it clear that it is a worthy opponent in fighting obesity. "Archery hits certain muscles that are important that people don't really know about," Brackin said. "It works the upper and lower body. It really works everything." Lowther echoed this sentiment, adding, "Just having big biceps gets you nothing in archery."