By building on the momentum of the spirited county football rivalry, Micah Holcombe, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service family and community health agent for Milam County, is promoting active lifestyles for students.
Holcombe put a new spin on the AgriLife Extension’s Walk Across Texas statewide fitness program by approaching the two rival school districts to participate in a little “healthy” competition..
The Battle of the Bell football game during the fall season is a longstanding rivalry between the Cameron and Rockdale school districts. Holcombe saw an opportunity to incorporate that spirited rivalry into a different type of competition for younger students.
Healthy competition promoting physical activity
Walk Across Texas is a free, eight-week walking challenge designed to help Texans be more active and establish the habit of regular physical activity. Since 1996, more than 650,000 Texans have participated in the program, significantly increasing their physical activity level.
This program was created to help people of various ages and abilities achieve and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. It was also created to help people realize physical activity, even just walking, can help fight obesity and other chronic illnesses.
Walk Across Texas allows other activities such as running, cycling/mountain biking, spinning, aerobics, rollerblading, swimming, dancing and gardening as exercise equivalents in reaching the 832 miles representing the distance between two farthest apart points in the state.
Holcombe contacted the rival school districts and convinced them Walk Across Texas would be a fantastic opportunity to inspire youth physical activity through competition. After speaking to the administration at both campuses, a decision was made that students from kindergarten through the fifth grade will have their own “Battle of the Bell.” Thus, the Walk Across Texas – Battle of the Bell was born.
“Having this age group compete allows a fair contest since most of the miles must be calculated during their scheduled physical education class,” Holcombe said. “It’s also important to start promoting strong fitness habits at a young age.”
The battle begins
Students who wanted to participate in Walk Across Texas – Battle of the Bell signed up for the competition during the first week of classes. They were given a pedometer provided by AgriLife Extension Better Living for Texans Program so they can keep track of their steps.
“The miles were tracked as they moved around campus and during P.E. class,” said Holcombe. “They were collected at the end of the day, then they began collecting their step counts again the following day.”
The daily steps were uploaded to the Howdy Health portal to keep track of their miles.
Holcombe had 1,224 students and 160 adults participate in last year’s competition. Along with other area youth and adult participants, the total walked was 42,442.96 miles. This year’s participation involved 1,234 students and 174 adults.
Starting traditions and building a fitness foundation
For this year’s contest, Holcombe started a weekly newsletter in which she provided information on how adult and student teams were performing, which school walked the most miles the previous week, and which grade from each school district was ahead in the competition.
Last year, Holcombe attended the Battle of the Bell rival football game between the two high schools to announce the winner of the Walk Across Texas – Battle of the Bell.
“The rivalry between the schools brings excitement to the competition,” said Holcombe, “I’m so blessed to work with two schools that put so much effort into this competition.”
Holcombe has also supplied a victory bell to be rung when the winner is announced, as well as a plaque that can be engraved with the year and name of the winning school.
Holcombe hopes to recruit the Milano and Thorndale school districts, also located in Milam County, to begin a Walk Across Texas rivalry competition of their own.
“Although we are a Cameron household, I root for everyone to win,” said Holcombe. “I hope we can continue this yearly rivalry, as it is a win for our community, these kids and their families — if they’re being active.”