Junior high students feeling the beat in before-school workouts

WILLMAR - Lydia Guertz and Christina Stegeman want to get in shape for basketball, soccer and track. Jared Newberg is looking forward to baseball. "I just wanted to get some exercise in the morning," said seventh-grader Anthony Wood. Whatever the...

WILLMAR - Lydia Guertz and Christina Stegeman want to get in shape for basketball, soccer and track. Jared Newberg is looking forward to baseball.

"I just wanted to get some exercise in the morning," said seventh-grader Anthony Wood.

Whatever their reasons, more than 50 Willmar Junior High students haul themselves into the school at 6:45 a.m. three days a week to lift weights or participate in a group workout for 45 minutes. Dean of Students Jeremy Theis started his Workout Club with four students six years ago. The 55 students signed up this year is the biggest club he's had, so big he's had to split the group. Half the group lifts Monday and Wednesday, the other half on Tuesday and Thursday.

Everyone gets together on Friday for a group workout.

"It's a really neat thing that's happening here," he said.


On Oct. 26, they began learning Zumba, a mix of Latin dance and aerobics, from Jeanette Morales. Morales works as the school success coordinator at Willmar Senior High.

Other Friday specials will include step aerobics, kick boxing and an Army-style workout led by a sergeant in the Army Reserve, Theis said.

All of the instructors are volunteers and will teach one Friday morning a month.

Lots of other volunteers make the before-school Workout Club work out, Theis said. It starts with parents who bring kids to school early and includes school staff members as well as the Friday volunteer instructors.

After a quick dodgeball game to warm up last Friday, Theis turned the morning workout over to Morales. She had promised him that she would make them sweat, he said.

Morales noted that they were awake early and asked, "Are you ready to wake up even more?"

She talked to them a few minutes before she had them start stretching. "It's fun, it's different, and there's no perfect way to do it," she said. "Don't expect to get every move, I don't expect you to."

As Morales got the students on their feet and spread out across the gym, Theis and teacher Justin Rewertz went out to join in. If they expected the students to try the dance moves, they ought to join them, they said.


Theis had expressed some concern about how the Junior High boys would react to a dance instructor. He needn't have worried.

The young people readily joined Morales to stretch and limber up. One boy wore a T-shirt from the Cardinal Conditioning program. On its back was printed "No One Has Ever Drowned in Sweat."

Laughter broke out as they started following Morales in the dance steps. "Single, single, double," she said as she swung her arms once to each side, then twice to one side. She taught them a similar move for their feet, then had the students try to put the moves together.

The crowd of mostly boys and five girls stuck with Morales as best they could, though it was clear most of them had not tried any of the steps before.

Some were at that awkward stage of growth when their feet seemed to be several sizes too big for the rest of their bodies. Others were a tangle of long arms and legs they didn't seem to be used to yet.

Still, they tried, and they laughed and smiled as they lifted their knees high, swung their arms in rhythm and twisted on their ankles.

"Was it really that hard? Easy," Morales said as she led them in a cool-down after about 20 minutes of dance steps. She told them that a usual Zumba class lasts an hour.

Before the students left to get ready for class, Theis asked, "How many people want to do this again?" One boy said, "Oh, yeah," as nearly all of them raised their hands.


"I think they did really good," Morales said as the students left. "They don't have to memorize anything; they can just learn it while they're doing it." She was pleased that they wanted her to come back.

Students in the club said they enjoy the morning workouts. "He (Theis) makes us sweat," said Jared, 12, a seventh-grader from Willmar.

Some of the students said they were "morning people" and didn't mind coming to a workout that started an hour and 10 minutes before their first class. Others aren't that thrilled with that part.

"It's a commitment, so I do it," said Anthony, 13, a seventh-grader from Willmar. "I like it; I just don't like having to wake up."

Lydia, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Willmar, said, "We're crazy getting up this early."

Lydia and Christina, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Willmar, said they don't mind that only a few girls work out with the club. "I'm not afraid to go by guys," Lydia said.

Christina said she can feel that she's in better shape since starting the workouts.

Theis said word of mouth has helped build the group, which more than doubled from last year to this year. "They see results," he said. "They see their success in sports really increase."

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