The National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils and Gov. Greg Gianforte unveiled a new $100,000 fitness center Tuesday morning at C.R. Anderson Middle School.
To the roar of about a thousand students packed into the school gymnasium, foundation Chairman Jake Steinfeld, of “Body by Jake” fame, announced the “no strings attached” gift.
The foundation has installed these fitness centers at schools in 42 states, and this year brought the group to Montana.
“We don’t always have great moments, but this is a great moment,” Steinfeld told the hundreds of children.
Gianforte was also on hand at the event to congratulate the school.
“I learned more playing football than I did in the classroom,” he told the students.
The foundation touts its use of public and private partnerships with corporations such as Coca-Cola and Nike. No tax dollars or state funds were used to pay for the fitness center, Steinfeld noted.
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Steinfeld said he selects a handful of governors to work with each year to bring these fitness centers to their states.
“It took me 36 hours to get your governor on the phone,” Steinfeld said. “When I told him about the gift, he asked ‘What’s the catch?'”
Steinfeld added that of the 42 governors he has worked with through this platform, the Gianforte administration was the easiest.
“Jake’s message is so important,” Gianforte said in an interview after the unveiling. “I spoke with other governors who have implemented this in their states, and it comes highly recommended.”
C.R. Anderson was one of three Montana schools selected. The other two were Mission Middle School in St. Ignatius and Lodge Grass School in Lodge Grass.
The schools were then asked to submit applications stating why they believe they were worthy of the new facility.
C.R. Anderson physical education teacher Rebecca Cleveland said she and the other PE teacher had about three days to put together a video demonstrating the school’s potential and need for such a facility.
“C.R. Anderson really went above and beyond,” Gianforte said.
Helena Public Schools Director of Facilities Todd Verrill said for the district’s part, not much was needed.
Verrill said the space, in the school’s basement, was previously used to house old workout equipment that has since been redistributed to other schools in the district.
Then the foundation’s contractors came in to upgrade the flooring in the soon-to-be fitness center and install the machines.
About two dozen machines and pieces of equipment, from rowing machines to pull-up bars, now fill the room.
Stone James is a C.R. Anderson student in the eighth grade who plays hockey and mountain bikes.
“This will help me be better at those sports,” he said.
“I thought it was kind of far-fetched that we’d actually be chosen,” he said. “But now that we have it, I’m glad we applied. It’s very nice.”
The students were clearly excited about the center, giving raucous applause to the governor and Steinfeld.
The foundation also showed a short video presenting its work across the country, complete with Steinfeld “declaring war on childhood obesity.”
The video concluded by listing the states to receive this year’s gifts. The students roared at the listing of Montana.
“This level of gift, the impact it has is exciting,” Helena Public Schools board of trustees Chairwoman Siobhan Hathhorn said. “These kids deserve it.”
Hathhorn commended the teachers for their “amazing effort” to help secure the fitness center.
She said the district needs to upgrade its facilities, and that it is about to revise its facilities master plan.
She said the master plan will look to incorporate ways of improving access to physical fitness districtwide.
Helena Public Schools spokeswoman Karen Ogden said the district is considering opening the facility to other sports teams in the district as well as faculty and staff in the future.
The National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils has suggested the gyms be open to the public, but has left that decision to the school districts that would likely have to incur costs to do so, its spokesman said Tuesday.
Cleveland, a C.R. Anderson physical education teacher for the past 13 years, said the fitness center will be implemented into her curriculum this week.
“Our students are hard-working and grateful kids,” she said. “We’ve done well over the years getting by with what we have. They are well deserving of this.”
Cleveland said the school boasts girls volleyball and boys and girls cross-country, basketball, wrestling and track and field teams.
“We offer lots of opportunities to stay active, and this facility will help supplement those,” she said.
But she hopes every student will enjoy the new equipment.
“Regardless of their interest level in sports, every student has access to this,” she said. “Hopefully, it’ll help them gain confidence and maybe it will translate into their young adult lives. Maybe they’ll even inspire their families to be more active.”
She said more than 30 students will be trained in best practices to serve as “ambassadors” to other students, and that beginning this week, the fitness center is fully programmed.
From the minute classes begin in the morning to the end of the day, “There will always be a class in here,” Cleveland said.
Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government.