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U of M Gophers organize around health

Many of us like to watch college sports. The athletes are almost as good or as good as the pros, and it feels good to cheer on teams and players who are mostly in it for the love of their sport rather than money or fame.

And if you're eight years old, college athletes can look like heroes.

That image made a health event organized by University of Minnesota Gopher student athletes especially powerful for about 75 kids from Sunnyside Elementary School in New Brighton, Minn.

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Victor Almstrom (Men's Golf), Erin Desmond (Rowing), Christine Herzog (Women's Golf), and future teacher Kelsey Lehman wanted to teach kids about sports and healthy living and build on health work begun last spring when gymnast Jade Beattie and golfer Clayton Rask convened discussions with athletes and a community group on health and values.

As part of an independent study class through the Center for Democracy and Citizenship that included reflection on their work as organizers, Victor, Erin, Christine and Kelsey made arrangements with Sunnyside school staff and recruited nearly 50 University of Minnesota athletes from football, baseball, and other sports. On a wintry Saturday morning, the athletes led the kids through track, volleyball, soccer, football, baseball and gymnastics stations set up around the Minnesota Gophers' indoor football field.

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"The event was very exciting for all four of us," said Erin Desmond. "After planning this sports clinic for weeks, it was great to finally see it happening. We had a great turn out from student athletes to volunteer. They were all very involved and worked well with the children. There was also an overwhelming response of interested children and their parents. All the kids seemed to be having a great time and a few even asked if they could come back and do it all over again."

After completing the circuit, the kids took a break for healthy snacks and had autographs signed by athletes and the University of Minnesota's cuddly - yet fierce - mascot, Goldy Gopher.

The three student athletes who organized this event - joined by student Tom Buske (Gopher Baseball) - will continue their organizing work spring semester. They are already working with the Warrior to Citizen group in Farmington, Minn., to hold a sports clinic for children of military families, and are exploring a partnership with Boys Totem Town, an alternative school for juvenile offenders in St. Paul.

The students coordinated the winter sports clinic with Anissa Lightner and Rachel McKessock, staff members in the McNamara Academic Center's NCAA Champs/Life Skills program.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs