DETROIT – Much of Brian Calley’s after-school activities as a young boy involved chasing reptiles and amphibians, riding his bicycle and playing kickball with friends in the schoolyards near Ionia, a rural community situated between Grand Rapids and Lansing.
Unfortunately for him, a great sport like hockey wasn’t a part of his childhood development. Aside from the occasional Red Wings’ game on TV, hockey wasn’t readily available to Calley and his five siblings.
“So many kids don’t have the opportunity to really be exposed to hockey, I didn’t growing up,” said Calley, Michigan’s lieutenant governor. “We didn’t have hockey teams out in the country where I’m from.”
But now, the nation’s youngest lieutenant governor, and his boss, Gov. Rick Snyder, hope that a greater number of school children can be exposed to hockey through the Red Wings School Assembly program.
Through Pure Michigan FIT, a health and wellness initiative that Snyder introduced in 2011, the Wings’ school program – which is a joint collaboration between the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Kroger – will have a larger state-wide audience this year.
“That’s really what we’d like to see, just to expose more kids,” Calley said in an exclusive phone interview with DetroitRedWings.com. “We’re thinking it might be around 50,000 kids this year that have an opportunity to play and be a part of this and I really consider it to be bigger and better."
Joined by about 50 students from Novi Woods Elementary School, Calley introduce the new partnership at a Kroger store in suburban Detroit on Wednesday afternoon.
“By making it one of the endorsed Pure Michigan FIT activities," he said, "I think it will give it another stage, more of a state-wide stage to give kids in all kinds of areas an opportunity to learn about what hockey is and to go out there and do it.”
In its third year, the Wings’ school program is a street and floor hockey crusade meant to introduce children to hockey and encourage an active and healthy lifestyle. Since September, the program has visited 80 elementary schools in 48 different Michigan communities.
“Being physically active is a healthy thing, it’s a necessary thing for us to encourage and that’s where Pure Michigan FIT comes in,” the 35-year-old Lt. Governor said. “With the abundance in recreation and opportunities here in Michigan let’s encourage people to put that to work for the health of our people.
“The assembly program with the Red Wings introduces kids to the sport of hockey. It doesn’t necessarily have to be organized; you just have to understand how the game is played whether it’s out on the street or if you’re lucky enough to have a rink to play on the ice. You don’t get much more physical than you do with hockey.”
Under the Pure Michigan FIT nutrition and fitness initiative, parents and caregivers receive nutritional information they need to raise healthy and happy children. Snyder’s focus, Calley said, is on the building blocks of health, which begins with healthy eating-habits and physical activity at an early age and empowers children to lead healthier lives.
According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, 13.3 percent of Michigan’s children (ages two-years-old to less than 5-years-old) are obese, while 11.9 percent of high school-aged youth are considered obese.
Obesity puts children at risk for a number of chronic diseases, like asthma, certain cancers, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
“Just a generation or two, there was just a third of the kids that experienced the same levels of obesity and that’s a scary, scary trend, because the habits that you pick up when you’re a child carry right through to adulthood so often,” Calley said. “So this is something that we have to get a hold of right now.”
Kroger is doing its part, adding another nutritional element to the school program this year with tasty, healthy child-friendly recipes. The recipes include fun nutritional tips to help parents encourage their kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and lower fat products.
“Kroger encourages parents to provide a more balanced diet as recommended by the USDA’s MyPlate food plate,” Kroger president Rick Going said. “Although we do not advocate depriving adults or children of foods they enjoy, we believe occasional consumption of these types of foods in moderation with a balanced diet and activity is more realistic and healthy.”
For more information, visit the Red Wings School Assembly program. Also, visit Pure Michigan FIT and follow #puremifit on Twitter. The Michigan Health and Wellness 4 x 4 Plan and tools for Michiganders to assess their health and create a personal plan can be found online at HealthyMichigan.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose