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University of Massachusetts students encourage Amherst fourth-graders to run

In one month’s worth of recesses, fourth-graders at Crocker Farm School cumulatively ran nearly 600 miles as part of the inaugural Amherst Run4Fun.

The 62 children recently participated in the program launched by Stephanie Menezes, a University of Massachusetts student in the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management at the Isenberg School, and coordinated by her fellow students.

Tyler Reilly, a UMass sophomore, said the program is about getting children on the right track to fitness and showing that running can be a fun activity.

“We wanted the initiative to show the value of exercise early on,” Reilly said. “Hopefully what they got out of this is self-accomplishment.”

The UMass students contacted the principal at Crocker Farm, Derek Shea, about adopting the program and then notified parents about the opportunity for their children to run during recess.

“We were their coaches and helped the kids see through it, mentoring them and keeping them on track,” Reilly said.

Daniel Decker, a UMass sophomore, said the program is about encouraging children to run and to run properly. The members of the UMass Sport Management Club set up a quarter-mile course at the elementary school that could be used during recesses.

Menezes, a UMass sophomore, founded Run4Fun when she was in high school as a means of giving younger students the opportunity to see if running would be something they’d like. Both Reilly and Decker ran on their track teams in high school, which attracted them to the project.

The fourth-graders weren’t obligated to run, but many did, eventually tallying 562 miles. Others not interested in running still participated in exercise during recess by playing touch football or soccer.

“We just wanted the kids to do whatever they wanted to do,” Decker said.

Besides Reilly and Decker, UMass students Nicky Petit and Ashley White were also at Crocker regularly working with the children.

Reilly said he got sponsorships from local businesses so children could earn prizes, such as water bottles, backpacks and T-shirts, for every five miles they ran. Donors included A.J. Hastings, Northampton Running Co., LimeRed Tea House, GoBerry, FroyoWorld and Henion Bakery.

Members of the Sport Management Club hope to expand the program in the spring semester, perhaps offering it to schoolchildren in other towns, Reilly said.

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