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Berkeley Elementary Running Club members get fired up before taking on the course around the school.
Berkeley Elementary guidance counselor Anthony Bramlett encourages third-grader Soleia Moreland.
Berkeley Elementary's running club started eight years ago with 20 members. It's grown to 69 runners, and other schools have started similar clubs.
By PAMELA GOULD
Students in Berkeley Elementary's running club raced onto the blacktop and filed into lines as soon as the schoolday ended on a recent afternoon.
Then, with precision that would make a Marine drill sergeant smile, the boys and girls spread apart at arm's length and began a series of stretches.
Soon, at the crisp command of guidance counselor and coach Anthony Bramlett, the children ages 8 to 11 started running the perimeter of the Spotsylvania County school's field in small groups.
Bramlett, 41, started the running club in 2004 in recognition of the epidemic of childhood obesity sweeping the nation.
He also wanted to provide a way for youngsters who live in a more rural part of the county--the Blaydes Corner area--to get regular exercise without needing to sign up for an organized team.
The choice of running was an obvious one for Bramlett, a Memphis native who ran track at the University of Kentucky. He followed his college coach to the University of Maryland, where he earned his master's degree while helping with the track team.
During the last eight years, Bramlett ran the Berkeley club for third- through fifth-graders the first 10 weeks of the school year and then coached the track teams at James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg during the winter and spring seasons.
At James Monroe, he coached male and female athletes to state titles and earned recognition from The Free Lance-Star as the area's track coach of the year multiple years.
Bramlett, who is married and has a 21-month-old daughter, has been a counselor in Spotsylvania schools for 16 years, his last 12 at Berkeley.
He said his goal is to teach young people more than running technique and fitness.
He wants to instill in the students such values as respect for others, a strong work ethic, being a good citizen and resiliency.
He especially wants them to learn the value of commitment and endurance.
"It's my hope what we do in the running club is going to take them into middle school and high school and into the real world," Bramlett said.
The Berkeley running club has been around long enough to inspire a series of siblings to participate and other schools to start programs.
Breana Donnell likes to run and just finished her third year with Berkeley's club.
Her brother, Bryson, a third-grader, had a less health-conscious reason for taking part. He said he did it "because my mom made me [join] with my sister."
But he said at the season-ending party last week that he had enjoyed it.
Kestrel Malo's older stepsister inspired her, she said.
And fourth-grader Madison Pittman was not only inspired to participate but set a goal of besting her big sister.
She succeeded and now holds the school record for girls in the mile run with a time of 6:16--three seconds faster than Caitlynn Madison.
Berkeley's running club has grown from about 20 children in 2004 to 70 this year, Bramlett said.
Smith Station Elementary started a program this year.
About 70 children signed up, with an average of 50 turning out each Tuesday morning to run before school, said physical education paraeducator Sherry Ruffner-Slack.
She said her six-week program serves as a training regimen for youngsters to take part in the 1-mile "Great Pumpkin Chase Race" held each October at Berkeley.
Robert E. Lee Elementary has a long-term program that runs year-round, before school, one day a week with 40 to 50 students.
And Lee Hill Elementary is in its third year with a program PTO President Kassie Palmer said is so popular organizers must hold a lottery to determine participants.
She said 120 students wanted to take part this year but they had to limit it to 75 for the days they must come indoors because of weather. The program runs two days a week in both fall and spring.
"The interest is huge and it hasn't dropped off," Palmer said.
Berkeley fifth-grader Logan Kern just finished his third season and said he took part hoping it would help him with his goal of playing football as a sixth-grader.
"I thought it would be a good idea for me to get stronger and build endurance," he said.
His brother Alex, now a seventh-grader, is among the former runners who volunteer with the club.
Their mother, Bethany Kern, thinks the program is wonderful.
"It builds so much self-esteem and they have so much fun doing it," she said.
Renee Pittman is also a fan of the program her daughters have enjoyed and appreciates Coach Bramlett's approach.
"He always knows how to get the kids up and moving--energized," she said. "He builds their confidence and it doesn't matter if they're first place or last place, it's just about finishing."
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972