Washington Middle School flexed its muscle on Thursday afternoon.
After years of training its student-athletes in a basement hallway — where workouts consisted of push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks — the school unveiled a brand-new, $100,000 fitness center to be used by its appreciative students, staff and the community.
Washington was one of 12 schools from four states chosen for the new addition as part of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils’ initiative to build a nation of the fittest, healthiest kids in the world.
Milwaukee’s Lincoln Center for the Arts and Appleton’s Badger Elementary School were the other Wisconsin schools chosen.
A dedication ceremony took place Thursday in the school’s auditorium, with speeches from Washington principal Curtiss Tolefree, Kenosha Unified Superintendent Sue Jarvis-Savaglio and NFGFC Chairman Jake Steinfeld. It was followed by a ribbon-cutting and student demonstration at the fitness center.
Steinfeld, affectionately known as “Body by Jake,” is an actor, motivational speaker and fitness guru.
“We have officially declared war on child obesity,” Steinfeld said. “We decided to take action and give the school the tools. We want to put as many fitness centers in elementary and middle schools as possible.”
Last spring, Washington submitted a five-minute video asking to be considered. Several staff members and students explained how the school would benefit from a fitness center and how they would embrace the new equipment.
A video titled “Why Not Washington?” showed students working out in a cramped hallway as the school’s dean Lamont Dagan, football coach David Speaks and school psychologist Jordan Gallitz made their case.
NFGFC director Kelly McKeag said selecting Washington was an easy choice.
“The video was really powerful,” McKeag said. “We want to know whenever we gift the equipment, it’s going to be a success. They have the passion and staff that wants to do it. I feel extremely confident in this group. They’ve been awesome. I’m really happy they got it.”
Tolefree led a spirited rally with Washington cheerleaders, staff and students rolling out the red carpet for a number of guests, including representatives from Coca-Cola and Anthem Inc. The program is also sponsored Coca-Cola, Anthem and Nike.
“I can’t put it into words what this means to our school and our community,” Tolefree said. “This is going to help our students build on their confidence and achieve academic excellence by knowing somebody thought well enough of them to invest in their future. I’m excited for our children. I’m excited for our staff. I’m excited for our community.”
Tolefree said the fitness center — complete with nearly a dozen universal machines, a climbing apparatus and stationary bikes — will be available to students, staff, parents, families and community partners.
“We don’t want this fitness center to be just for the football or basketball players,” Tolefree said. “This center is for everyone. We want to make sure we maximize the usage here.”
Wisconsin is the 17th state chosen for the fitness centers, according to Steinfeld.