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Technology gives kids a variety of fitness choices
Betsy Elrod leads a class at Chestnut Mountain Elementary School in a Hopsports exercise routine. - photo by Tom Reed

Gym class at Chestnut Mountain Elementary School is no longer just about running laps and doing sit-ups.

Today's students can engage in interactive fitness lessons with famous athletes and trainers projected onto a big screen.

"The way things are headed in Georgia now, PE is geared more toward fitness than games," physical education teacher Betsy Elrod said. "I knew I wanted to find something innovative for my own class."

Her newest gym program is part of a donation that totaled more than $11,000.

Elrod said an unlikely mix of events led her to not only meet the president of a California fitness company, but to receive all of it's equipment for free.

"I think I just about fainted when I found out," Elrod said. "My budget for equipment this year was only $800."

Elrod said the events began with an e-mail two months ago.

She was searching online for new gym programs when she stumbled across HOPSports, a training system which uses a computer and projector to show interactive fitness lessons.

With numerous partners like WNBA, Atlanta Falcons and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the program uses pro athletes to lead a variety of exercises from martial fusion to cheer and even badminton. A green screen puts the athletes front and center for the class to interact. There are lessons on nutrition and "brain breaks" for cooling down and learning between circuits of cardio.

The Chestnut Mountain gym is less than 3 years old and is equipped with a projector, sound system and computer. Elrod sent an e-mail asking if she could purchase only the software.

"After I sent the e-mail, I figured it would be a lost cause," Elrod said. "I really doubted that the company would sell the software alone, and even if they did, I knew it would be expensive and figured there would be no way we could afford it."

The next day, Elrod discovered she had received a reply back.

HOPSports Training System president Cindy Sisson Hensley was in Atlanta for a meeting with state physical education leaders.

"She was running early and wanted to know if she could stop by and meet with me. She also asked if I could have the projection system ready because she wanted to use one of my classes to participate in a HOPSports lesson," Elrod said.

The students worked out with Hensley in a kickboxing lesson that day.

And a few weeks later, Hensley sent her the HOPSports software.

"I asked her if we would be a pilot school for the area or something and she said, ‘No, I have plenty of pilot schools. I am doing this because I really like you and your principal,'" Elrod said.

Elrod said she recently began using the software for a few daily warmups, but will incorporate the program more as the year progresses.

The software comes with more than 150 lessons and she said some students compared the experience to "being inside a video game."

"It can't take the place of a live teacher, but it can enhance other stuff I'm teaching," Elrod said.

Chestnut principal Sabrina May said the donation will further push the physical education classes into the 21st century.

"The students are so engaged in technology these days, and to engage them in an exercise with technology is a big boost for us," May said.

May hopes that it will help lead students to engage in lifelong fitness.

"If we can get students to enjoy exercise I think we've really accomplished something."

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