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Olympic gold-medal track start Dr. Rochelle Stevens poses with Southaven Intermediate School students and her Olympic medals after the school announced a $28,000 grant from the Mississippi Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation for fitness equipment under the Project Fit America program. Stevens was part of the student assembly announcing the grant.

Bob Bakken|DTT

Southaven Intermediate School Wednesday unveiled new outdoor equipment that was provided by a $28,000 grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation under the Project Fit America program. 

The new apparatus isn’t simple playground equipment, but it will be used as part of an overall fitness program physical education teachers, such as Jason Ketchum and Kyle Borden at Southaven Intermediate, can use to promote a healthier lifestyle.

The kickoff student assembly received an Olympic-sized boost with the appearance of Dr. Rochelle Stevens, a Memphis native who starred in track at Morgan State and for the U.S. Olympic team.

Stevens won a silver medal in the Barcelona Games of 1992, followed four years later with a gold medal in the Atlanta Games of 1996, as a member of Team USA’s 4x400 meter women’s relay team. She has also earned gold medals in the same event in the 1995 World Championships and the 1987 Pan American Games.

The school is one of a select group in Mississippi that received funding for the project, said Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation Health and Fitness Coordinator Eugenia King.

“They applied for the grant and showed great characteristics of a school that would lead the program and encourage their students to be physically active and fit,” King said. “Southaven Intermediate School is one of 32 schools to receive this grant this year, and one of 240 schools to have the grant statewide.”

Stevens, taking photos with students while she wore her Olympic medals after the assembly announcing the grant, said the equipment will give the kids a better alternative than sitting in front of a video screen. They can get active and improve their health, she said.

“You can’t do that by doing the things they’re doing, like playing video games and eating all of the wrong types of foods,” Stevens said. “You have to instill that into them now, like when we were growing up and we talked about the five food groups all the time. PE was mandatory, so we just need to keep those same values in place so our youngsters can be healthy as well.”

Principal Kenneth McKinney challenged his youngsters to engage in better fitness.

“We want our students to be strong and fit,” McKinney said. “Push yourself to move to a higher level. You are going to raise the bar.”

King added the program is part of the foundation’s desire for a more fit Mississippi, noting the state’s top ranking in the wrong category: obesity.

“We have a vision of a healthy Mississippi and we want to encourage our kids to be physically active and develop healthy lifestyle habits that will help them to achieve their goals and build a healthier Mississippi,” King said.

Project Fit America is a national program that works to bring funding, equipment, teacher training and resources for schools to gain an appreciation of fitness and movement.

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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