LOUISVILLE, Ky., (Oct. 24, 2013) -- "It's a fantastic event because it breaks the monotony for the kids of doing the same thing every day. Especially when it's someone new telling them what to do; and when that person is in uniform, it tends to perk up their interest in physical fitness."

Mick Motley, athletic director and a former coach at Manual High School in Louisville Ky., was talking about an Army Strong Challenge that took place in 135 high schools across the country last fall.

"Typically kids today would rather not workout; they'd rather do things on their computers with their hands and minds and aren't stimulated as much physically, so it's kind of a challenge to get them moving. But this Army event invigorates them more because it's something different and is conducted by a well organized groups that keeps them moving, and gives them some motivation for why they're doing it, a challenge against our rival across town, Male High School," he said.

The event, created by national marketing company iHigh, was designed to provide the Army with a promotional platform for recruiters to highlight the importance of both physical and mental fitness to today's youth and tomorrow's fighting force.

From September through November, more than 1,150 recruiters conducted Army Strong Challenges during gym classes throughout the day at schools across the country.

Broken down into five different teams, recruiters led students through a series of nonstop exercises consisting of sit-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, a shuttle run and jumping jacks. In between each exercise, the teams of students answered as many ACT/SAT prep questions as possible on a hand-held tablet. The questions were taken directly from the March 2 Success Program.

Teams were awarded a point for every repetition of an exercise each member of their team was able to complete and for each correctly answered question. Members of the winning team in each class received t-shirts. Members of the winning team for the school received medals.

Recruiters coached, encouraged and motivated students through the process.

Even though Manual freshman Sara Saedd is an active teenager, she found the drill challenging.

"By the third exercise I was pretty worn out. When you're in a competition with your peers, it makes you work harder because you want to do better. Had I been doing push-ups just by myself, I probably wouldn't have done as many. I normally do like 20, but I did 34 here."

The challenge had been conducted at Manual High School's longtime rival, Male High School, a day earlier. Charles Mudd who teaches gym at Male was impressed with the event and said he would like to see the recruiters return every year.

"It reaffirms from a different voice, a different organization what we're trying to instill in kids on a daily basis, and that is the fitness components that lead to a healthier lifestyle. Obesity rates are skyrocketing along with associated medical problems like type 2 diabetes. I feel like the earlier we can address this issue, the sooner kids have a chance to withstand fast food and sedentary pressures."

The goals of iHigh are not just to reinforce to the youth the importance of exercise, but also to open school doors to recruiters and get them involved in the community in a positive light, said Steve Murry, iHigh vice president of operations.

"It allows everybody to see that the Army has altruistic ideas, that Soldiers want to combat childhood obesity and help get youth physically fit. The Army really cares about youth and this is one way to show it.

"This kind of interaction changes the Soldier into a person and humanizes them. They're not just having a one-way conversation about recruiting, they're talking to the student about physical fitness and other things the Army cares about. This can lead to a discussion about Army opportunities, so it's really a door opener to allow conversation to start naturally."

Staff Sgt. Bernardo Twine located at the East Louisville, Ky., Center, said he was asked a lot of questions concerning topics that he just doesn't get a chance to discuss during table setups.

"You get a little more time with them here and get to talk about more than just tuition assistance. They ask you about your experiences. They were asking me where all I've been, what job I do in the Army, why I was there, just questions like that instead of avoiding you and thinking I'm just trying to get them in the Army," he said.

"And they seem like they're enjoying it; they like the competitiveness. I hear some of them saying, 'I haven't done sit-ups in year,' and they're knocking them out. And I'm encouraging them, telling them they can do it. Maybe this is putting it in their minds to get up off the couch and start being more active."

Manual High School freshman Alex Thibodeau, who said he's not that physically active, admitted that even though he didn't particularly enjoy the exercise, he still thought it was a pretty good event.

"It was a well-rounded event because there were questions after the exercises and the exercises weren't just focused on one part of the body but distributed throughout all the different muscle groups."

In order to participate each student had to fill out a lead card. Even though this year's challenge generated more than 48,000 leads across 38 states, Murray said the primary goal was to humanize recruiters and open up doors in hard to recruit schools.

"I think there's one school coming up this week that has never allowed any military recruiting, ever. We went to an academy last week in San Deigo that has never had the Army ever in the school; the local recruiters can't even get in the front door to the main office without being told to turn right around. We were able to do a full day event there and have been invited back again."

Rival schools in ten cities -- such as Male and Manual -- competed against each other in the iHigh Army Strong Challenge during their big game week. An Army representative award a trophy to the school that won the Army Strong Challenge that week during halftime at the rival game.

Out of 135 activations nationwide, Heritage High School in Palm Bay, Fla., in the Tampa Battalion footprint, was the overall winner of the Army Strong Challenge Program with 2,265 points. A trophy was presented to the school by Tampa Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Darin Blatt, Dec. 13.

Two hundred schools will take part in the challenges this year, scheduled to begin in the spring.

Page last updated Fri December 20th, 2013 at 10:27