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UNCP’s BRAVE Club is taking child health to the mat


A group of UNC Pembroke volunteers are helping approximately 50 children and their families to become healthier.

Armed with a small grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH), BRAVE Club started a wrestling pilot by partnering with the after-school program of the Boys and Girls Club of the Lumbee Tribe. It was founded by University Aquatics Director and retired wrestling coach P.J. Smith and Marian Wooten, a professor of recreation management.

On February 10, kids poured into Odum Home’s gym for workouts in wrestling and aerobic exercise. There was considerable enthusiasm as Smith and three student volunteers put the youngsters through their paces on the wrestling mat and Wooten led an aerobics session for a group of girls in another room.

Wooten explained the BRAVE acronym.

“It stands for Body mass and Resiliency Achieved through Vigorous Exercise,” she said. “Our research focus is resiliency – that never give up attitude – but the primary objective is healthy children and families.”

“Kids try something once, and if they are not successful, they give up,” Smith said. “We are working to get them through the wall of resistance.

“We’re also getting them off the couch,” he said.

Former UNCP wrestler and volunteer Curtis Holland explained the program in a sentence.

“We encourage them to keep trying, and it works,” Holland said. “Wrestling is a physical sport, and we are also teaching them how to compete with class and controlled aggression.”

With a whistle around his neck, Smith is doing what he has done for 40 years as a coach. The kids eagerly respond to his directions.

From the grant, Smith bought a nearly new wrestling mat, which will be also used for tumbling, Pilates and other activities after the wrestling segment ends.

“We’re grateful to the Odum Home for letting us use this facility, and to the Boys and Girls Club for being great partners,” Smith said. “The kids do an hour of homework, and we get them for an hour. When school’s out, we’ll have more time with them.”

Ellen Lowry, coordinator of the Pembroke Boys and Girls Club, said it is a perfect fit for her after-school program.

“This program is absolutely wonderful, and it gives our children an opportunity they would not have had,” Lowry said. “This is a perfect partnership, and the kids are benefitting.”

Two of the after-school children were already diagnosed with type two diabetes, and with exercise and healthier eating, they are making progress, Lowry said.

 “Little by little we are making gains,” Lowry said.

Teaching games, activities and healthy lifestyles are only part of the story. It is also a learning laboratory, Wooten explained.

“As we work to increase fitness and general competency, I want to write a research paper on the relationship between body mass and resiliency,” she said.

Wooten and Smith would expand the model program to other communities.

“Maxton and Red Springs have asked about it,” Smith said. “With limited budgets, small towns struggle to have youth recreation programs.”

Wooten said the University’s resources may prove helpful in another research project.

 “We’d like to do body mass research which would be a groundbreaking study with an American Indian group,” Wooten said. “The University has a new Bod Pod, which measures body mass very accurately.”

BRAVE Club also provides training for UNCP students like Brittany Berrier who is a second year graduate student and a former UNCP softball player.

“I want to work in a recreation program, possibly with a program like this,” Berrier said. “I like this; it’s fun and the kids are great.”

Smith said college students and the kids are a win-win relationship.

“The athletes are great with the kids, and the kids ask for them,” he said. “This age group loves college kids in general, and it gives them exposure to the possibility of going to college.”

The $20,000 NIH grant is part of its EARDA program or Extramural Associates Research and Development Award. The program serves to assist University faculty and administrators in writing pilot proposals in biomedical and behavioral research.