Originally published Feb.4, 2019 in My Jersey Central.

By Greg Tufaro, Bridgewater County News

The first annual Memorial Bowl, held last Friday at East Brunswick High School for the district’s Memorial Elementary School students and their families, celebrated physical activity and healthy lifestyle choices.

The event also served as a fundraiser for Unbroken Warriors, generating more than $800 in donations for the nonprofit, which specializes in assisting military veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence is important for promoting lifelong well-being and preventing various health conditions.

The most recent United States Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and adolescents engage in 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, a recommendation many children from 6 to 17 years old do not meet, according to the CDC.

“There’s plenty of research to back up the fact that physical activities help students retain information, keeps them more engaged in class and lowers behavioral issues they may have,” Alexander said. “When you lump it all together, what you can get from a quality physical education starts to turn that tide, which is the message that we are trying to get out there (through the Memorial Bowl).”

More than 200 people attended the Memorial Bowl, during which students had an opportunity to engage the elementary school’s staff in games and activities, and at which community groups that promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles were provided a forum to reach students and their families.

“The community groups really did a great job of speaking to the kids and offering things that the kids would like,” Alexander said. “The kids were really engaged. If you were passionate about something, potentially you had an outlet.”

Alexander said more than two dozen activities – ranging from yoga to kickboxing – were represented. Representatives from the township’s recreation sports programs, Urban Air Trampoline Park, Topgolf, and the East Brunswick police and fire departments were among those who presented at the event.

Students grades 3 through 5 who participated in the Memorial Bowl engaged their teachers in a target game where players had to attack and/or guard pins. Students grades K through 2 competed with their teachers in a tag-based chasing and fleeing game that required strategy to secure pieces of treasure.

Representatives from SHAPE America, which provides support to professionals specializing in health, physical education, recreation and dance, and from the New Jersey Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, provided information and spoke at the event.

“They were all amazing,” Alexander said. “They were able to provide research, journal articles and legislation to educate parents on the benefits of physical education.”

In its report to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee stated that, “across the full age spectrum, regular physical activity provides a variety of benefits that help us feel better, sleep better, and perform daily tasks more easily.”

The report also revealed that “a single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve that night’s sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms, improve cognition, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin sensitivity on the day that it is performed.”

Most of the aforementioned improvements, the report stated, become even larger with the regular performance of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

“The value of physical education goes beyond playing games,” Alexander said. “Playing games is part of it, but a real physical education teacher worth his or her weight or salt is going to explain to you the lifelong benefits of what you are doing. It’s about you now and you as you grow older, as well.”

Chris Yannazzo, supervisor of physical education and athletics for East Brunswick Township Public Schools, said Alexander’s Memorial Bowl epitomizes the goal of the district’s physical education department.

“We want physical education to be about lifelong fitness and wellness,” Yannazzo said, “so it’s important for him to run something like that to really get kids and families aware of what’s out there for them. I applaud him and all (who staffed the Memorial Bowl) for the time and effort they put in.”

Alexander said he hopes the Memorial Bowl can blossom into a district-wide event.

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