Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Live Positively: Get The Ball Rolling

"Do you realize we are at risk of raising the first generation of young people who will have shorter life spans than their parents?" stated Representative Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) at The U.S.Capitol yesterday afternoon. "Think about it! We need to spend more time talking about childhood health and nutrition. We have got to spend more time talking about how to get more young people active. And that doesn’t mean just going out and riding a bike. We need to get them on a pattern, a pattern of behavior of being more active."

"That’s a shocking statistic," replied Our Washington Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner. " In this day and age for that to be the case is just incredible and that’s why we need to fight it."

Mr. Lerner was on Capitol Hill on September 28th, along with fellow Washington D.C. Sports Owners, Dan Snyder of The Washington Redskins and Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystic leader--Ted Leonsis. In partnership with Coca-Cola, the Nationals, Redskins, Capitals and Mystic were kicking off the pilot program--Live Positively: Get The Ball Rolling. A high profile effort to bring local awareness to a nationwide problem--childhood obesity.

According to the Presidents Council for Sports, Nutrition and Fitness, 20% of all American children are obese. Most other countries in this world have figures in single digits. 75% of all kids with obese parents end up being overweight too. The numbers don't lie, nor has the outbreak of high blood pressure, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Obesity is the number one pediatric concern in The United States.

This problem so bad, Dr. Ian Smith of The Presidents Council for Sports, Nutrition and Fitness says: "Americans should be ashamed of themselves."

"This is a growing crisis," believes Senator Mark Warner (D-Va). "Childhood obesity is an epidemic in this country. Over half of the young people in this country today who are of age to serve in the military--couldn’t qualify to get through the basic fitness criteria. This is not just a health issue, not just a cost issue. Childhood obesity is a national security issue. And there are a whole graft of military leaders who have tried to elevate this issue more to the national consciousness."

As a call to action nationwide, Coca-Cola announced yesterday a series of fitness and healthy lifestyles clinics to be hosted by Washington's pro baseball, football, hockey and basketball (both men and women) franchises. In October, 750 to 1000 kids will participate in the four planned clinics. The sessions will touch on exercising the right way and eating a balanced diet. This kickoff press conference setting in motion a series of clinics planned by Coca-Cola throughout this country over the next year.

"It’s important for children to know that it doesn’t matter whether you are a professional athlete or a third grader attending an elementary school down the street--we all need daily exercise and balanced nutrition to lead a healthy life," said Ryan Zimmerman, who represented Nationals' players at the press conference. " As a Washington National, I am proud that the team has made a long-term commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles through The Foundation’s Baseball Academy and youth clinics--along with initiatives like this one here."

The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation will soon break ground on their long anticipated youth baseball academy which will provide three baseball fields and, eventually, educational outreach programs at The District's Ft. Dupont Park in Ward 7. A drawing card for Washington youngsters to stay active, have fun and learn new skills.

"Our focus is the baseball academy," stated Mark Lerner. "I think we can make a tremendous difference and that will bloom into other things. Everything we do at the park (today), with the youth clinics and everything else--makes a big difference too. It’s a thrill to see the kids having fun. They will remember those moments every day of their lives. Sports teams have a big responsibility to make a huge difference in people’s lives. And whatever we can do, we try to help."

Coca-Cola in one of over 200 corporations now involved in childhood obesity awareness on some level in The United States. Coca-Cola recently teamed up with First Lady Michelle Obama's initiatives to help bring more awareness to childhood obesity by assisting in the start up of "Clear On Calories". A program providing transparency in calorie labels on all beverage products. Coca-Cola also says it has removed all full calorie soda products from schools.

The Washington Redskins have hosted numerous football clinics over the past 10 years. They have also paid for many youth football fields in the surrounding D.C., Maryland and Virginia communities. The Washington Capitals regularly work with kids at their Arlington, Virginia practice facility and through street hockey tournaments and the Ft. Dupont Ice Rink. The Wizards recently committed to 25 youth clinics and The Mystics have 500 participants in their summer basketball program. And in cooperation with Sister To Sister, the Mystics handed out bicycles to needy youths a few months ago.

"Starting with the youth is very, very important," commented Ted Leonsis, the Monumental Sports & Entertainment Founder and CEO and majority owner of The Washington Capitals, The Washington Wizards and The Washington Mystics. "Owning, participating, playing for a professional sports team is a great social responsibility. People look to us for leadership. They look to us as role models and we can’t shun that. We have to internalize that. Young kids are very, very impressionable. So all of our teams have become very, very, active."

The goal of this unified front is to send a powerful message to kids and their families. And hopefully inspire youth in the D.C. area to lead a more active and healthy lifestyle. But as Representative Fudge stated at the press conference, adults need to take some of the responsibility too. They need to feed their children better. And they need to make sure their children don’t sit in front of a television or computer screen for more than two hours per day.

"That is also why we have young people who can’t speak in complete sentences" criticized Ms. Fudge. "It’s because they tweet and text. We need to get young people moving. (and that might be some of y’all too, right?) It is time for us to take responsibility for our young people."

The final words from Ted Leonsis and Mark Lerner:

Ted Leonsis: "The young people are our future. The young people are our customers. The young people are really the bedrock of the foundation we are going to build in this city."

Mark Lerner: "And it is important to our team and our family that we do what we can for our home town. We need to be able to make a difference. Dan (Snyder) and Ted (Leonsis) are making a difference and we need to be active and do what we can too."

Our Washington Nationals "Live Positively:Get The Ball Rolling" Clinic at Nationals Park tentatively scheduled for the first week of October, 2010.

P.S.--Washington Redskins Tight End Chris Cooley was on hand for the event, as were Nicklas Backstrom from The Capitals, Crystal Langhorne from The Mystics and Josh Howard from The Wizards.

Here is the complete statement by Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner from the press conference:

As a native Washingtonian and lifetime sports fan, I recognize the impact professional sports teams and their players have on the youth in the Washington Metropolitan area. That’s why my family has made it a priority over the years to encourage our players and coaches to help inspire kids; to lead active and healthy lifestyles through the sport of baseball. In fact, promoting physical activity and recreation is one of the cornerstones of The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, as well as, a major priority for the team’s overall community outreach.

One of the primary goals of The Dream Foundation is to give local youths an opportunity to learn and play the great game of baseball. This dream will soon become reality when we break ground on The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Ward 7’s Ft. Dupont Park early next year. Besides teaching the fundamentals of baseball, the academy will operate as a year-round youth development program that provides after-school educational services for children in The District Of Columbia.

The 20,000 square foot, state of the art facility, will feature three fully equipped baseball fields, batting cages, bullpens, warm-up pitching mounds, and a clubhouse that will offer teaching, training, and mentoring opportunities. The entire venture has been spearheaded by my sister and chair of The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation--Marla Lerner Tanenbaum--who is here today.

Her optimism and resolve has been instrumental in keeping this project on track and in-line with the original concept our family and Major League Baseball first envisioned when we began this process back in 2007. When we approached Coca-Cola three years ago, the academy was just a concept. But because Coca-Cola recognized the importance of America’s youth by embracing a healthier lifestyle--they immediately signed on as our (The Nationals) first partner and have continued to support the academy ever since.

Today, I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of The Nationals and our family, to personally thank Coca-Cola for joining us in our efforts to create this wonderful facility. In addition to our youth baseball academy, The Washington Nationals have brought thousands of local kids to beautiful Nationals Park for baseball related instruction as part of a series of free youth clinics hosted throughout the season. We are thankful for Coca-Cola’s donations of Dasani water and Powerade for the kids to enjoy while learning a variety of batting, fielding and pitching techniques with The Nationals coaching staff.

With the help of Coca-Cola, these clinics serve as a motivational tool to succeed both on and off the field, while also promoting a safe and fun way to stay active. Of course, The Nationals are excited to expand beyond our own team’s efforts, work with other organizations within the Washington sports community to encourage our fans to make healthy choices. With the Live Positively: Get The Ball Rolling initiative, we see a unique opportunity to use our collective voice to inspire D.C., Maryland and Virginia children to remain active and eat a balanced diet--all while having fun. We are pleased to partner with Coca-Cola and our fellow D.C. sports teams to challenge you, throughout D.C. area, to get the ball rolling.

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