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Blog: Find a Worthy Sports Program, and Support It

Like anyone in the health or fitness industry, my mail slot seems to be the final resting place for every sports apparel, equipment and shoe catalog in the free world.

The other day, a swimwear catalog came in and I stared at it in surprise. The models, for a change, didn't look like stick figures with big hair. They looked like female athletes - strong and healthy and real, and they were actually swimming and surfing instead of posing languidly on the shore.

Wow, I thought, it's about time.

It was an image that stuck with me when I opened my e-mail later in the day and found a notice for an athletic program for middle school girls. The six-week program, Figure Skating in the City, teaches at-risk girls how to skate, but more important, it uses these skills as a springboard to promoting physical wellbeing and building self-confidence, self-discipline and self-respect.

The program is funded by Baltimore's Safe and Sound Campaign, which promotes opportunities for children to grow up healthy, safe and active.

The figure skating program emphasizes academics and uses sports as a parallel: if you apply yourself to the work, you see improvement in the performance. It also emphasizes healthy eating, consistent training and volunteerism.

The middle school demographic (grades 6 through 8) is problematic, particularly for underserved youths. Peer pressure, always a problem, becomes even more of a force. Kids become afraid of showing enthusiasm for anything their friends don't share, and that includes exercise and sports. Girls, whose metabolism changes around that age, are at a huge risk for obesity, diabetes and more. There are also risks for kids to become involved in things like drugs, alcohol, gangs and crime.

And then there's self-image. If girls at that age are confronted with a constant stream of images of stick-thin women, they view that as the only way to be attractive and healthy. What they need to learn is that in reality, athletes eat a good diet to stoke the engine and keep it operating in peak form. And as a result, they don't look like sticks.

I've seen the Safe and Sound Campaign work with local kids' soccer programs and with other sports - tennis, baseball and more. They rely on community donations of funds and equipment to keep many programs running, but they do run, and they keep kids happy and occupied in creative and worthwhile activities.

I know Baltimore can't be the only city with a program like this (in many cases, rec departments offer such programs). It also seems to me that local health clubs could get involved by holding sports equipment drives for similar organizations in their own communities. It's amazing what people have in their closets, and what their own kids have outgrown.

With the seasons changing, it's probably a good chance to go through the closet, the attic and the basement. It might not put kids on the medal podium at the Olympics, but it can keep them off the streets. And that's a win, no matter what.

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