ScoutingNovember - December 2002

An Award With Heart

By Deborah Geigis Berry

The Chin family of Springfield, Mass., shows how earning the new BSA Physical Fitness Award can help any family make frequent activity and healthful habits a regular part of life.

On a warm spring night in Springfield, Mass., after carbo-loading on spaghetti and meatballs, 8-year-old Alexander Chin and his 10-year-old brother, Jonathan, are pumped to play basketball.

"Come on, Dad!" calls Alexander, a Bear Cub Scout in Springfield's Pack 15, as he and Jonathan, a Boy Scout in Troop 32, head toward their backyard hoop. Jim Chin, who cooked his family's Friday night Italian feast, follows Mom and the boys out back.

"Every night this week the boys have been involved in some activity," says the sports-oriented mechanical engineer, who is assistant Cubmaster of Alexander's pack and also coaches the boys' soccer teams, "and they're still going. Parents are the only ones who seem to get tired."

"This weekend, we will take a break and see ÔSpider-Man'," says Debbie Chin, as she zips up her red-and-black warm-up suit and watches her husband and sons work up a sweat. "These guys are always on the run."

Fitness is such a way of life for the Chin family, it's hard to imagine them sitting still for a two-hour movie. In addition to soccer and basketball, the boys swim and roller-skate. Jonathan is a 1st degree black belt and Alexander is a blue belt in tae kwon do. As a family, the Chins like to go bicycling, bowling, swimming, and hiking together. As they prepare for a weekend of activities, they're living proof that exercise can be a blast.

The Chins are ideal candidates for earning the new BSA Physical Fitness Award, which is designed to help members renew a commitment to physical fitness and good health. But any family, regardless of their fitness level, will benefit from working toward the award. Those who earn it will receive an official certificate, plus are eligible for a special pin and crimson-colored patch. Most important, they receive a jump start toward a healthier lifestyle, balanced diet, and regular exercise.

"The award requirements emphasize things we already do," says Debbie. "Like going bike riding with our boys."

"What's important is what the patch symbolizes," says Jim, "a commitment to fitness. That's always been important to our family.

"We probably won't need to alter our lives a lot to meet the requirements because we already do so many sports," Jim adds. "But I know working with a mentor will give us tips on how to improve and increase our knowledge of health and safety. There's so much we can learn."

Indeed, working with a mentor, a certified member of the health-and-fitness community (such as a gym teacher, coach, physician, or nurse), is a key part of the program. After each candidate undergoes a physical exam, the mentor helps him or her devise a fitness plan that improves ability in seven key areas:

  • posture (a posture-rating chart records progress)
  • accuracy (demonstrated by a softball throw)
  • strength (sit-ups)
  • agility (side step)
  • speed (dash)
  • balance (squat stand)
  • endurance (squat thrust).

Progress is measured over time, and the mentor can incorporate favorite sports, as well as fitness activities in Scouting handbooks, so the program can more easily become a part of a regular routine.

"We wanted to make this program as easy to pursue as possible," says Dr. George Allen, chair of the BSA's national Health and Safety Committee and a former consultant in rheumatology and pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "There's a lot of flexibility when it comes to choosing the types of fitness activities. If you like cycling or running track, the mentor can work with that.

"And there's a nonjudgmental approach to the whole thing. We're not rapping on people's knuckles to get them to exercise. This is a low-key attempt to get people more interested in their health."

The BSA Physical Fitness Award challenges parents (whether or not they are Scout leaders), siblings, and even members of the wider community to fulfill the requirements. "We're opening this award up to everyone," says Ed Woodlock, BSA national director of Health and Safety Services. "After all, health and fitness isn't just an issue with the Scouts; it's a community problem."

Program candidates are required to give a presentation to a group of Scouts or local youth about cardiovascular fitness, diet, and the benefits of regular exercise. For inspiration and guidance, leaders will receive a green wallet-sized Leader's Fitness Card featuring a personal checklist for weight, exercise, and diet goals, along with program requirements.

"We estimate it will take a couple of months to earn the award," says Woodlock. "The idea is to show that you have changed your routine over time. And we hope the changes will be forever."

The community approach is seen as a key to improving America's health, even at high levels of national government.

"We need to show children the fun in being active and persuade communities to provide more activities for youth," said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson during Physical Activity Day last May. "We need to stop the guilt-ridden lectures and show kids the enjoyable things that they can do to improve their health. That way, they'll want to spend more time on the playgrounds and less time on their Play Stations."

With the new Physical Fitness Award, the Boy Scouts of America hopes to accomplish just that.

Freelance writer Deborah Geigis Berry lives in Windsor, Conn.

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