In an ever-changing high school sports landscape, every team seeks any advantage they can get to evolve their players into top shape at a young age.
At Brownstown Central and Seymour, coaches are having their kids hit the weight room in their middle school years to prepare for their final four years at the high schools.
The extra-curricular weight programs are offered to all athletes, and the turnout has grown throughout the years.
Seymour’s middle school football coaches head the weights at Bulleit Stadium’s weight room every Tuesday and Thursday.
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“It’s ran specifically for the middle school football, but anyone who wants to come out, we won’t turn them away,” Seymour’s Zach Ruble said. “We want them to come out and get in better shape.
“With the incoming eighth graders, I’ve been involved with them for a couple years. I’ve seen a lot of better overall athletes come out of that group than years past. They learn at a young age the importance of core exercises.”
Ruble said that the students focus on technique and safety, rather than just adding weight, during the sessions.
“A lot of people think that because their kid is a sixth grader, they don’t want them doing weights,” he said. “What we do here is lift minimally. Depending on their strength and size, we start them on a PVC pipe to teach them technique.
“We gradually get them up to where they can lift a 45-pound bar. If you’re in sixth grade, you probably won’t lift more than that bar. The thought process is that since the kids are young, they don’t want them lifting weights to stunt growth. That’s not what we’re doing here.”
During the workouts, the kids mostly focus on building core strength through push-ups, sit-ups, mountain climbers and other weightless exercises.
Tuesdays are upper body, and Thursday’s focus on lower body workouts.
“In my experience, I’ve been involved in youth sports since 2001, a lot of kids get hurt because they’re out of shape,” Ruble said. “My big focus is to get them physically prepared for practice and games. That way, their body is conditioned to take any blows.”
Ruble is assisted by coaches Zach Motosicky, Johnny Fattal and head middle school football coach Jeff Klakamp.
At Brownstown, third-grade teacher Todd Brown, Jeff Settle and Steve Brewer head the middle school weights under the loose direction of varsity football coach Reed May. Students meet three days a week for an hour at the weights room outside Blevins Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a pretty quick hour, but it’s a good hour,” Brown said. “It’s all voluntary. They don’t have to be here at all. I think parents like it because we don’t have any winter sports besides basketball. If you don’t play basketball, what are you going to do. It’s good for those kids that do other sports out of season. It’s a good thing for the kids to come here.”
Brown said that having a weights program for the junior high is a huge advantage for a smaller school like Brownstown Central.
”It’s huge compared to most schools, we have an advantage,” Brown said. “Most schools don’t have this. We’ve had teams that have struggled in the seventh grade, but then do well the next year. I think that weightlifting has something to do with that.”
During the winter, Brown said that they average 30 to 40 kids. Following basketball, 50 to 65 kids hit the gym.
Brown feels that the program has aided the success of the school’s athletics.
“Any middle school kids that are pursuing a middle school sport can attend. It doesn’t have to be football,” Brown said. “It has been really beneficial in all sports. Starting them at a young age, it’s important to have correct form. Once they’re in high school they can take it as a class.”
Brownstown has maintained the middle school weights for a number of years.
Brown said that parents have been on board with the program.
”I think that the more fitness evolves, parents are open to it,” he said. “People worry about it stunting their growth. I tell the parents that we are going to go slow. We will add weights slow. As long as they don’t try to add too much weight, they will be fine. I think lifting got a bad name for a while, but now society is more open to kids weightlifting — which is a good thing.
“Our biggest goal is to keep everyone safe in here. All it takes is someone not paying attention to have someone get hurt. We emphasize spotting on all the lifts. With that many kids, that’s our biggest issue. They understand how to lift properly.”
While they currently offer weights to just seventh and eighth graders, Brown said that they’ve considered adding a sixth grade session in the future.