Meadville Tribune

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February 17, 2013

Students test physical, mental and leadership skills

LINESVILLE — For Scott Kesler and Brooke Phelps, volunteering to participate in a fitness challenge conducted during a recent gym class at Conneaut Area Senior High School was a no-brainer.

For Kesler, a senior, the competition represented another exercise to help him prepare for a body building competition coming up in April.

Phelps, a sophomore, started playing softball and soccer when she was a youngster and currently plays varsity soccer, basketball and softball, runs cross country and hopes to run track through her school’s cooperative agreement with Meadville Area Senior High School. “I know in life academics are important, but I enjoy all sports,” she explained.

They and 158 fellow freshmen, sophomores and seniors were participants in the first-ever U.S. Army Iron Scholar Challenge. Because they’re taking health class this semester instead of gym, the school’s juniors couldn’t be included.

Designed to test physical, mental and leadership skills, the program is being developed by the Army’s Mercer Recruiting Company with the support of the Cleveland Recruiting Battalion. After its inaugural run at CASH, the pilot program will tour at least 10 high schools in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio.

The company’s commander, Capt. Leo Raabe, was in Linesville to oversee the program.

The problem, Raabe explained, is that too many high school graduates find themselves unfit for advanced education and employment because they aren’t physically in shape, can’t pass standardized exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, American College Testing or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery or have had trouble with the law. In fact, only one in five graduates are qualified for military service.

The recruiters’ response is the Iron Scholar challenge, a team competition designed to evaluate physical fitness, mental toughness and leadership and teamwork abilities.

Participants were divided into four teams of five people each during each of the school’s eight periods. Round-robin physical events of one minute each test strength, speed and endurance through the use of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups or flex arm hangs. Shuttle sprints are interspersed with two-minute rounds, during which students must answer as many of 10 English and 10 math SAT prep questions as they can.

And then there’s the leadership component, a bridge-building activity during which students are given a supply of 2x6-foot wooden planks and three platforms spaced so that they can’t be spanned with a single plank. “They have to work together to figure out how to use multiple planks to bridge the gap,” Raabe explained.

With the help of recruiters and representatives from Edinboro University’s Reserve Officers Training Corps, teams were scored. Top teams won prizes and will go up against surrounding high schools. At the end of that competition, the top teams and top schools will be recognized.

So far, Raabe is impressed.

“The kids are doing really well so far,” he said as the competition neared its half-way point. “We had a couple of kids whose fitness level was outstanding.”

As for what it took to impress this veteran recruiter, 91 pushups in a minute from one competitor got his wholehearted attention.

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