Running for a lifetime: Herald staffer looks at how to stay fit beyond middle school

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Eighth-grader Albert Hernandez said he signed on for the health benefits. “Cardio is very important,” he said.” At home I don’t do much, so I decided to do it to stay in shape.”

It was overcast and in the 70s when I ran with the Grand Avenue team. We began with 10 minutes of stretching, and then we were off, running three-quarters of a mile around the school’s perimeter. I made the run three times, for a total of 2.25 miles.

I kept up with the seventh- and eighth-graders, who had fresher legs and more youthful exuberance than I did. Their excitement, though, was contagious, and as I raced through the cool breeze, I felt invigorated.

As I ran, I chatted with students, who said they joined cross-country because other sports didn’t interest them, or they wanted to stay in shape for basketball or volleyball, or they simply wanted to be with friends. I ended by asking a group of 20 students whether they planned to continue running in high school. Everyone said “yes.”

75% of youth athletes quit at 13

Rick Wolff, a former professional baseball player and Harvard-trained sports psychologist who has written 20 books, noted in “The Sports Parenting Edge” (Running Press Book Publishers, 2003) that 75 percent of youth athletes quit sports by age 13, either because they become bored with sports that they were exposed to at too young of an age, or because the pressures of performing both academically and athletically are overwhelming –– or both.

Tim Boyens, the Valley Stream North High School boys’ cross-country and track coach, said, “Kids have to learn how to manage their time, and it’s really a hard thing for a lot of kids to do.”

And these days, it’s getting tougher for young athletes to stay in the game, Boyens said.

New York state’s recently imposed 2 percent property-tax cap is forcing many school districts to reduce the number of coaches and trainers they hire, which means they must field smaller teams — and cut athletes who would have otherwise played sports, according to Boyens.

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