Carolina students encouraging healthy lifestyles one sport at a time

Carolina students are using hockey sticks, soccer balls and other sports equipment to teach area youth about sports, healthy lifestyles and college.

Carolina athletes from UNC Sports Clubs are participating in a program called Orange County Preparing Lifelong Active Youth to Move More, or PLAY. The UNC students travel to Orange County middle schools to teach students in after school programs about the sports the Carolina students play. Eighteen teams are selected for the program that runs from September through March, excluding December. By participating, the teams can earn at least $300 for their clubs.

Each participating team spends two days at one of the district’s three middle schools. The athletes discuss their sport and its rules, then let the students try it out through drills and scrimmages. Each session includes 45 minutes of physical activity. Between 30-50 middle school students participate in each two-day session.

Some sports naturally work better in a school setting, such as basketball or soccer, but the program aims to get students moving and introduce them to sports they may not be familiar with, such as handball. Even though the middle schools don’t have a pool, both the water polo and the swim teams have participated. The swim team, for example, had the students run relays, simulating swim strokes on land, says Liz Sims, a senior and PLAY intern.

“Hopefully we are exposing (the middle school students) to knowledge and diverse recreational opportunities,” says Jason Halsey, director of UNC Sports Clubs. “The kids are learning about teamwork and sportsmanship and that exercise is fun.”

The program was initially funded through an Eat Smart, Move More NC community grant. The program is especially important for sixth graders because students must be in seventh grade to join school sports teams, says Nidhi Sachdeva, Healthy Carolinians Coordinator with the Orange County Health Department. PLAY helps the students meet recommended levels of physical activity, Sachdeva says.

“The athletes are excited about their sports and that enthusiasm definitely rubs off on the kids,” Sachdeva says.

The Carolina students enjoy the program, too, Sims says. “It is fun teaching other people what you are passionate about,” she adds.

In surveys, the students say the program has encouraged them to exercise more.
Another added benefit of the program is the exposure the middle school students get to college.

“As important as the physical activity is, we also wanted to be there to put those kids in touch with college students and have them see that (college) is an opportunity,” Halsey says.

Published November 2, 2012.