By Jeff Nations
Steve Burton could consider a career in sales, should he ever decide to switch careers.
Burton, a physical education teacher at Bass-Hoover Elementary School in Stephens City, and fellow Bass-Hoover P.E. teacher Dawn Seymour hatched the idea of instituting a walking/running club he called the "Stinger Stompers" just last year. The idea, of course, was to get his students up and moving first thing in the morning. As Burton likes to say, "Exercise is Miracle-Gro for the brain."
From the start, the Bass-Hoover club has been strictly voluntary, with no set standards for any of those who participate. Students who want to walk or run simply show up starting 45 minutes before school -- 8:15 a.m. -- and began to churn out laps on the school's outdoor track. Or, if the weather doesn't cooperate, the club moves their workouts indoors.
This soft-sell approach to exercise seems to be a hit, as evidenced by the students' participation the last two years. The club meets three times a week -- Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays -- and Burton said about 140 students have participated at some point this year. On a typical day, Burton said, between 40 to 50 Bass-Hoover students will be knocking out laps and piling up mileage.
"We give them the option -- they can either run or they can walk," Burton said. "Some kids will run the entire time, and others will just walk and talk with their friends."
The club is an option to all students at the school, from kindergartners -- even the afternoon students -- on through fifth-graders. Sometimes, parents even join in with their kids.
"Occasionally parents will walk or run with their kids," Burton said. "They tend to do that more in the fall and spring. Adults don't like the winter as much."
There may not be any set minimums, but Burton does ensure some incentives for those who continue to build up their mileage in the club. For every 25 miles logged, students earn a certificate. Last year, those who totaled at least 100 miles got Stinger Stomper club T-shirts, which may well happen again this year.
Already, five Bass-Hoover students have eclipsed 100 miles with the club, and one has passed the 125-mile mark with four months still left in the school year.
At Bass-Hoover, students have to complete five laps to tally a mile on the track. Burton's counting system is simple and effective -- he places a large bucket of Popsicle sticks near the start line, and as students complete laps they grab a stick from the bucket. At the end of the day, they turn in the sticks and Burton notes their daily mileage log on individualized progress charts.
"They don't even realize what they're doing," Burton said. "They're out there walking and talking with their friends and don't even realize how far they've gone. I've had some come in who've gone two miles and I'll say, 'That's outstanding.'
"They just grab a stick and go."
That's the idea -- exercise without thinking about it, just for the sake of getting out and active.
"We leave it up to them," Burton said. "We tell them to go at their own pace. If they can only make it one day a week and not three, that's still great. Some of them will bring their music and their iPods while they walk, and others will run the whole time."
Always ready with another soft sales pitch, Burton points out the less productive alternatives to participating in the Stinger Stomper club.
"We tell them if you weren't doing this, you'd probably still be at home sleeping or watching TV," Burton said. "This gets them up and moving and ready to start the day."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>