Exuberant applause erupted throughout the Marana Middle School gymnasium from several hundred surprised students as Principal Kristin Reidy introduced a heavyweight list of honorary guests. As part of the U.S. Department of Education’s fourth annual back-to-school bus tour, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Michael Yudin brought with him some of Arizona’s greatest athletic legends on Wednesday, Sept. 11. They came to highlight First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign that focuses on inspiring kids to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
Many of the students at MMS are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and therefore view this program as a tool to help them keep the Word of Wisdom, the Latter-day Saints code of health. Heather Morse was invited to participate in the event to compete against her son in a surprise fitness relay. She commented, “As members of the Church, we believe in being healthy and physically fit. This campaign is another way to bring us closer together as a community.”
To start the festivities, the principal introduced local dignitaries who were seated on a designated row in front of members of the school’s parent teacher organization, other school district leaders, and invited guests. The teens clapped as their principal introduced Mayor Ed Honea, Councilmember Roxanne Zeigler, Marana Chamber of Commerce President Ed Stolmaker, and Melissa Martin from the office of Senator Jeff Flake. They continued to applaude as Marana Unified School District (MUSD) Superintendent Doug Wilson and other MUSD representatives were introduced.
Principal Reidy motioned towards the vacant chairs on the front row and explained that the school still had five special honorary guests waiting to be introduced. First, she welcomed Michael Yudin who serves as a principal adviser to the Secretary at the United States Department of Education in Washington D.C.. During the program, Assistant Secretary Yudin introduced this year’s bus tour theme: “Strong start, Bright Future.” He said, “ I can’t think of a better way to get a strong start than eating healthy and staying active.” He challenged the kids to no less than 60 minutes of activity each day.
Mr. Yudin also recognized Marana Middle School physical education teacher Amy Corner, who was raised in a Latter-day Saint family, as a champion. For PE class assignments, kids get active with their families (Falcon Families R Fit 2Gether) and give active community service (Falcons R Fit 4 a Cause).
Reidy continued by introducing John Fina, who as a former American Football Offensive Lineman for the Buffalo Bills and the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL, played in two Super Bowl Championship games. Fina graduated from Salpoint with all-state honors in football and played 5 years at the University of Arizona. He was enshrined in the U of A’s Football Hall of Fame in 2004, and his name is in the “ring of fame” in Arizona Stadium. John Fina, now an advocate for the “Fuel up to Play 60″ program and a football announcer, shared that he still has nutritional and athletic goals even though he no longer plays in the NFL. He challenged the kids to write down their goals like Anthony Robles did. “The reason most people fail instead of succeed is that they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment,” said Fina.
The next celebrity guest had the audience on their feet cheering. Anthony Robles who was raised in Mesa, Arizona and graduated from Arizona State University was recently appointed by President Obama as a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. In 2012, Anthony was inducted to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame after he won the 2010-2011 NCAA individual wrestling championship in the 125-pound weight class despite being born with only one leg. Anthony Robles, a three-time all-American wrestler and ESPN’s Wrestling Analyst Expert, stated that “the goal of the Let’s Move initiative is to solve the problem of childhood obesity for the next generation.” He talked about the importance of setting goals. Twelve years ago he wrote his goal to become a champion on a piece of paper. He pulled out the paper that he still carries with him today to show the students. He acknowledged that Marana Middle School was one of the first schools in the nation to sign up to be a Let’s Move school.
The cheering elevated as the University of Arizona Women’s Basketball Head Coach Niya Butts was welcomed. Niya, one of the most sought-after young coaches in the country is entering her sixth season at the helm of the Wildcat program. “I had an amazing time at Marana Middle School today,” Butts would later say. “It was an electric atmosphere. My hope is that all of the schools get on board and really commit to getting out and doing something physical.” Wildcat coach Niya Butts challenged the kids to not let their cell phones take over their lives or take the place of activity. She had the kids repeat after her two statements. The first was “What I do speaks so loudly that they cannot hear what I say.” The second was “Who I am and who I want to be are only separated by my actions and my words.” She told the students that “every day is about what we do.”
Principal Reidy introduced the last guest, “It is my honor to introduce perhaps the most recognizable face in the state of Arizona…. Lute Olson’s achievements and impact in 25 years as University of Arizona Men’s Basketball Head Coach go beyond any statistical measure. However, the 1997 NCAA Championship, four Final Four appearances and 1,063 career victories begin to give insight into the strength of Coach Olson’s program.” The packed gymnasium exploded with cheering as Coach Olsen, who at the time of his retirement ranked fourth in winning percentage and second in victories for active Division 1 coaches, took his place on the floor.
Principal Reidy spoke about the schools passion and commitment to get their students moving and prepared to make healthy lifelong decisions. She mentioned that the school has the largest percentage of students participating in athletic programs in the entire Northwest League. “Over the past three years, we have had a surge in the percentage of students that make honor roll, and we have improved our state letter grade.” Reidy issued a challenge to the students, faculty, staff, and parents. “We would like for every one of you to commit to being active for 60 minutes for the next 60 days! Any movement counts!”
The addresses were followed by a slew of physical activities. Michael Yudin, Coach Butts, and previously selected students and faculty participated in a dance challenge. A fitness relay challenge followed with students and staff competing in a race that included roller blading, scooters, stilts, hula hoops, a 3-Point basketball shot followed by a high-five to Coach Butts and Lute Olsen and a final football catch thrown by John Fina.
Principal Reidy called in a special group of athletes to compete in a similar relay against a different set of students. The students were surprised to see their parents take the floor to battle against them. Heather Morse who participated with her son Ian in the race exclaimed: “What a great experience for these students. It was so inspirational”.
After the event, teachers and students gathered to take pictures with Arizona sport legends. Rand Baker, MMS wrestling coach and member of the Church, had read Anthony Robles’ book, “Unstoppable: From Underdog to Undefeated: How I Became a Champion.” Robles said that he had heard great things about the school’s wrestling program and that he was grateful for good coaches who had helped him along his path. Coach Baker commented, “I love hearing successful people, who have had to go through trials to get where they are, speak. Especially ones that are a part of something that is very close to my heart. It also motivates me to be a better coach to know that maybe I can have that kind of an impact on the youth.”
Video highlights of the event were filmed by the University of Arizona.