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Brandon fitness classes keep kids moving

Jordyn Coughlin, 5, right, leaps with other participants in a Kids Fitness Movement class at the Athletic Club in Brandon.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Jordyn Coughlin, 5, right, leaps with other participants in a Kids Fitness Movement class at the Athletic Club in Brandon.

BRANDON — The children run in circles and between cones as hard-bodied instructors urge them on. The kids do jumping jacks, bouncing without the crisp form they will learn later, and without the stoicism of nearby adults on treadmills and elliptical trainers.

The 20 or so kids range from just under 5 years old to 14. Some are slim as tadpoles, but most are stockier. Their parents are trying to protect them from temptations they didn't have to face as children.

Computers. IPods. Video games. Scores of fast-food restaurants, hundreds of television stations.

They're at the Athletic Club for the Kids Fitness Movement classes.

A game called Clean Up Your Backyard pits two teams of children throwing beanbags across a center line. The team with the fewest beanbags at the end of one minute wins. The kids run and stoop and throw, run and stoop and throw.

"They don't even realize they're working out," said Nicole Coughlin, 28, known as Coach Nikki. "They think it's a game."

The point, said Kevin Donofrio, who owns the Athletic Club and conceived the program, is to get kids off the couch.

"They talk about this ADD, this ADHD," he said, referring to attention deficit or hyperactive disorder. "but in many cases, they need to move."

Donofrio, 45, moves around a lot just running his businesses. He coaches wrestling at Brandon High School. He owns a physical therapy clinic adjacent to the Brandon gym and another Athletic Club in Plant City. He says it's tough finding time to work out, but you couldn't tell from his rock-hard physique.

He started the Kids Fitness Movement out of frustration. His son, Dalton, wasn't interested in wrestling. His school had also diagnosed a learning disability.

Donofrio didn't care if his son wrestled, but he wanted him to be in shape. The problem: None of the athletic programs he tried were helping much.

Take some youth soccer leagues that continually rotate players to fill 11 spots on the field — in the end, all players rest on the sidelines more than they play. Schools can't be relied on anymore; some have eliminated recess from elementary schools, and physical education classes are often optional.

So Donofrio created a nonprofit corporation, the Florida Olympic Sports Academy, which helps fund Kids Fitness. He envisions at least three smaller locations in Brandon alone.

After the workout, Sami Elalem, 10, slumps at a table with classmates. He's built like an offensive lineman, minus the muscle mass — and, right now, the swagger.

"Sometimes I like it, but it gets pretty tough," Sami said. The hardest activity is spinning class, he said.

Coaches change the routines and the kids get frequent water breaks, said Leslie Wheeler, 33. A physical education teacher for Hillsborough public schools, Wheeler said she tries to keep the activities fun and to praise kids for their effort.

They mount a climbing wall that looks like Mount Rushmore. They play beanbag dodgeball, with a variation: Instead of sitting out when they get nailed, they do lunges.

After 90 minutes, the kids lie on their stomachs, resting on their elbows. It's time for the pow-wow on food. They tell coach Tina Madson about what healthy foods they have eaten that day, and own up to the unhealthy foods.

"No matter how hard you worked out, it defeats the whole purpose if you go home and have a double chocolate cake with ice cream," said Madson, who teaches physical education at Providence Christian School.

The program has helped one entire family lose weight, said Marisela Brooks, 42, who with her husband, Dorgys, also works out at the gym. Their 10-year-old daughter, Diargys, used to come home from Center Academy in Riverview and watch television.

Now she comes home from the gym and sleeps like a baby. Diargys has dropped 5 pounds since starting the program and her grades have picked up, her mother said.

Since participating in the program for the past year, Dalton Donofrio has made the honor roll. His father said he's not surprised. Teaching kids about health and fitness can make a permanent impression, he said.

"If you instill it in them young, that's the key. And the problem with our country right now is that no one is doing that."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2431.

>>FAST FACTS

Kids Fitness classes

Kids Fitness Movement classes are held at the Athletic Club, 1903 W Lumsden Road, Brandon. Classes run Monday through Wednesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and Saturday mornings from 10 to 11:30 a.m. A summer camp with three-hour sessions begins Monday and lasts through mid August.

Brandon fitness classes keep kids moving 06/05/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 5, 2008 4:31am]
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