Facility Profile - January 2005
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Hitting the Wall

Cowart Family Ashford Dunwoody YMCA and the Carl Sanders YMCA at Buckhead
Atlanta, Ga.

Gold's Gym
Lorton, Va.

By Kyle Ryan

Getting kids active never has been more challenging. Pastimes that keep kids sedentary seem to grow more numerous by the day, but ones that get them moving can't seem to keep up the pace.

Adding to the problem is that kids today are accustomed to lots of stimulation, the kind that can make throwing a ball through a hoop seem boring. (Throwing a ball through a hoop on a PlayStation video game is another story, though.) Kristin McEwen, executive director for the Cowart Family Ashford Dunwoody YMCA in Atlanta, discovered that firsthand.

"There are a lot of youths who aren't interested in sports that we traditionally offer, like basketball," McEwen says. "Youth sports are great, but that's not for all the kids. We have to figure out a way to get those other children excited about being active."

So this past summer, her YMCA, along with the nearby Carl Sanders YMCA at Buckhead, tried something new: interactive activity walls by Sportwall International Inc. in Carpinteria, Calif. Designed to imbue the allure of video games into physical activity, the walls use lights, sounds and shapes to get kids playing.

"We're really focusing on ways to get youth more involved in physical activity," McEwen says. "And this was a great new look at how to get children excited about being physically active."

How? By making fitness a by-product of play. If it's not fun, it's going to be a tough sell to kids, especially if something looks difficult. But the environment created by the Sportwall installations is designed to resemble what being inside a computer game might look and sound like. Combined with the interactive games, the system helps the kids have a good time and make them too busy to notice much else.

The Dunwoody YMCA tried the ScoobieBall system, a large, brightly colored, enclosed pen of sorts with 18 colored targets, a scoreboard, time clock and speakers (with CD-quality sound). Inside, kids play one of four different games: Lights Out, Chase the Target, Play Tunes or Find the Hidden Object. They earn points by throwing a ball at the lighted targets, earning more points the faster and more accurate the shots are.