By STEVEN NALLEY
Over 100 at-risk youth participating in the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation’s Healthy Choice, Healthy Children program toured Mississippi State University Monday and heard speeches from numerous MSU officials and role models.
MSU guest speakers outlined the benefits of education and making good choices to the children. These speakers included head baseball coach John Cohen, university President Mark Keenum, former Dean of Students Mike White, Office of Diversity and Equity Programs Director Tommy Stevenson and doctoral student Kesha Perry.
Cohen said he enjoyed talking to the students about responsibility and tried to talk with them as if they were part of his own baseball team.
“It’s so unique for us to have the opportunity to share with them and, quite frankly, for them to share with us,” Cohen said. “I love what the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation is doing. It was fun to be a part of it.”
The event began at MSU’s Palmeiro Indoor Baseball Facility, where, after hearing from guest speakers, students enjoyed a quickball tournament. Quickball is an accelerated variation on softball with only three bases, where players run the bases whether they hit the ball or not and score points by returning balls to a bucket.
Four MSU baseball players and Cohen joined CRSF facilitators in supervising several rounds of the quickball tournament.
“I think it’s a neat variation on baseball,” Cohen said. “It really gets the kids involved.”
Carmen Baeza, director of state initiatives with CSRF, said quickball is just one of the avenues CSRF uses to encourage children to take up healthy lifestyles. Nutrition and exercise, she said, are just one element of the 12-lesson CSRF curriculum.
“That way, we can talk about those choices on and off the field,” Baeza said. “We promote healthy choices in general.”
To that end, Baeza said, another element of the event was a tour of the MSU campus with its student recruiters, the MSU Roadrunners. Baeza said this conveys the importance of education to students at a young age, grabbing their interest.
“It just gives them a chance to engage with their peers who are already here,” Baeza said.
Christine Philley, school health administrator with MDOE, said the 100 children were selected from a total of 1,500 in Mississippi who participate in the CRSF curriculum. She said 20 children who displayed exceptional performance in the CSRF curriculum were selected from five schools in Mississippi.
The CSRF curriculum was implemented in Mississippi schools in 2011 through financial support from MDOE. Philley said one of MDOE’s goals in partnering with CSRF was to reach children in areas of the state with highest incidences of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and that goal fit well with the healthy lifestyles CSRF encourages.
“We try to help kids make healthy choices in all areas of their life,” Philley said. “All of that helps them know the healthiest choice for their life is to stay abstinent until marriage.”