Meadville Tribune

February 17, 2013

Students test physical, mental and leadership skills

By Mary Spicer
Meadville Tribune

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.

Military-education connection

As for why CASH was selected as the site of the first challenge, “We’ve worked with CASH in the past,” Raabe explained, noting that it did a program in November that included a dozen representatives from individual businesses and organizations focusing on science, engineering, technology and math.

“It’s one of the largest schools in the area,” he continued, referring to the school’s 700-member student body. “We have a positive relationship with the faculty, and the kids are great. It seemed like a good fit, especially for the first one starting out.”

CASH guidance counselor Melissa Flinchbaugh, who handled arrangements from the school’s end, agreed. “Conneaut School District has an open-door policy and a good relationship with all branches of the military,” she said.

According to Flinchbaugh, before the recent consolidation, before the former Linesville, Conneaut Lake and Conneaut Valley high schools were combined into CASH, approximately a dozen students from the three schools combined entered the military after graduation. So far this year, two students have committed to serving in the Marines and two in the Navy; in addition, one or two are seriously considering the Air Force and another one or two the Army.

Acknowledging the presence of EUP’s ROTC, “If you choose a military, you can still do college,” Flinchbaugh said. “As a district, we give the ASVAB military test, not only as a military test but as an aptitude test.

“We have about 100 kids in the district take the test. Our college-bound students use it as an aptitude test to see where their skills, strengths and weaknesses are,” Flinchbaugh said.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at

Iron Scholar Challenge participants

Ten schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio are currently signed up to participate in Mercer Recruiting Company’s U.S. Army Iron Scholar Challenge. Additional schools are expected to be added to the list before the challenge wraps up later in the spring.


Conneaut Area Senior High School (Linesville)

Grove City High School

Central Valley High School (Monaca)

Alliquippa High School

Central Tech High School (Erie)

Girard High School

Strong Vincent High School (Erie)


Warren G. Harding High School (Warren)

Niles McKinley High School (Niles)

Girard High School