Meadowview, Timberwolves form pack to get kids moving

Program designed by Joe McCarthy catches the eye of NBA

A Meadowview Elementary student shows physical education teacher Joe McCarthy he is practicing the hand movements McCarthy taught which encourage right-brain/left-brain thinking as he runs laps during gym class. (File photo)

A Meadowview Elementary student shows physical education teacher Joe McCarthy he is practicing the hand movements McCarthy taught which encourage right-brain/left-brain thinking as he runs laps during gym class. (File photo)

Joe McCarthy, a physical education teacher at Meadowview Elementary in Farmington, probably gives the most popular homework of any teacher.

McCarthy created a program to reward students for fitness, even though he believes there’s countless rewards already for being active. His fitness program has been so successful that it’s gone statewide.

During the summer, McCarthy was contacted by the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx organization to help motivate younger students statewide to get them moving outside of class.

Students in second through eighth grades in 60 Minnesota school districts will participate in the Get Fit program, which started Wednesday and will run three months. Every 15 minutes of exercise outside of class earns one point. Each student who achieves 75 points or more will receive a free Timberwolves ticket, a poster and another NBA-related prize.

The NBA was looking for something like the NFL Play60 program, which is a youth fitness campaign focused on getting young fans active for at least 60 minutes per day. The Timberwolves are the first NBA franchise to engage in a program like this, according to McCarthy. If it takes off here, it could spread throughout the NBA.

It’s worked at Meadowview.

In the program, students who are active outside the school day will record their information on a form. Exercise can include playing a sport, taking a dog for a walk, playing tag, raking leaves or shoveling snow.

“I don’t want to decide what they do,” McCarthy said. “I want them to do what they want.”

He has each student in class for 25 minutes every other day. That’s not enough, he said, so he developed homework.

There’s no denying he’s passionate about health.

“Obesity rates are on the rise,” he said. “Unless kids develop heathy eating habits and a habit of movement early in life, it doesn’t look good.”

To McCarthy, there’s more benefits to being an active person than a ticket to a basketball game.

“This is affecting their academic performance,” McCarthy said. “When kids are active, their focus improves. The more focused, the more ready they are to learn. They’re heathier. They’re in school more often instead of being home sick. Every time the body moves, it creates brain cells. It relieves stress. As you feel better, you look better, you’re self confidence is better. It helps you sleep better. You listen better. There’s less problems at school.”

Test scores at Meadowview have gone up and discipline has gone down since the program started, according to McCarthy.

In the next few weeks, McCarthy is giving presentations at Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin teacher conferences about the movement and how it affects the brain. He’s the vice president of sport and physical eduction on the Central District American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance board and president of the Minnesota chapter. He was the 2012 Minnesota Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year, and he coaches track, basketball and soccer.

Last year he helped the school win $25,000 in a contest sponsored by ChildObesity180. In the past three years he raised almost $30,000 in donations for his program. Now he has the Timberwolves and the Lynx to help inspire more young people.

“My biggest obstacle is lack of time with students,” McCarthy said. “Hopefully they can be active all seven days after school.”

McCarthy is out exercising as well. He competes in triathlons when he’s not encouraging people to be active.

For more information about the program, visit www.nba.com/timberwolves/wolvesfit.

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