High-Tech High School Fitness
Buffalo Grove High School
Buffalo Grove, Ill.
By Kyle Ryan
As schools around the country face budget cuts, physical-education programs often become casualties. For some kids, school can be the only place where they exercise, and once that is gone, little stands in the way to slow down the nationwide obesity epidemic.
Then there's Buffalo Grove, Ill. A suburb of Chicago, it's home to the 2,000-student Buffalo Grove High School, which exists in a sort of parallel universe to the rest of the world. Not only does the school have 26 different sports for students, it also has a weight-training and cardio room that's nicer than most health clubs, with 14 selectorized weight stations, 18 cardio machines, free weights and three televisions.
The weight and cardio machines use Fitlinxx, a computerized workout-tracking program. The system installs directly into new or existing fitness machines, which are then linked via a network to a database that tracks users' results. Students have personalized settings for their workouts, and the computer monitors them, making sure they lift correctly and at the right speed. Students begin workouts by visiting a kiosk that loads their workout information into the machines, then at each station, using a personal code, they activate the machines for their specific workout.
Sound nice? It is, according to Dr. Joe Scarpino, who heads up the school's P.E. programs. Scarpino has been with the school since it opened in 1973, when the all they had was a weight room in the basement. The setup improved a bit over the years, but nothing compared to what he has now.
The whole idea came from the school's principal.
"The principals in district 214 receive a lump sum to spend on their buildings to upgrade whatever they want to do," Scarpino says. "In 2000, he says, 'It's P.E.'s turn. I want you to build something that nobody else has. I don't just want weights; I want something better'—and he never gave us a price tag."
Scarpino and a team of five other people spent six months going to hospitals, health clubs and universities. There, they discovered the Fitlinxx program, which at the time was limited to hospitals and high-end health clubs. But Scarpino knew he wanted it, and he received the green light to push the program forward.
Even with money from the district, incorporating the computerized workout-tracking program required some extra money, as the system can be pricey to install. Eighteen months of fund-raising followed, where Scarpino and others "begged and pleaded" for money. Again, they had some high-tech help. Using computer assisted design (CAD) software helped bolster their pitch. Potential donors could see exactly where their money would go.
"It wasn't like, 'We need some money because we're opening up a weight room,'" Scarpino says. "It was, 'Why don't you contribute? This is what we're building, and this is what it's going to cost us.' And I think that technique put us over the top. People knew exactly what we were doing, exactly what they were buying and helping to buy."