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12-10-04 Holiday is no obstacle for these kids

By Shelley Grieshop

  COLDWATER -- There's nothing like an old-fashioned snowball the school gymnasium?
Fourth-grader Connor Stammen gives a cardboard frisbee a whirl to see if he can get it through one of five improvised holiday wreaths on the obstacle course at Coldwater Schools.<br>
  Sure, even if it's rolled-up socks and snow forts made of cardboard.
  The Pit, the former Coldwater High School gym also is the place for sleigh rides, balancing stacks of wrapped presents and tossing chimney logs (empty wrapping paper rolls) into a make-believe fire.
  It's all part of the elementary holiday obstacle course.
  "The kids really love this, they look forward to it all year," says elementary physical education teacher, Ken Fisher. "The junior high kids walk through here every day and ask to play, even the high school students join in."  The first Christmas course debuted in the school about 20 years ago, created by the schools' other physical education and health teacher, Deb Smith. The idea was to give the students something physically challenging and unique to do in the wintertime when outside activities are limited.
  Fisher has continued the tradition -- every other year -- for the last 15 years. It's a lot of work, but the boys and girls just love it, he says.
  The students begin bringing in boxes, old Christmas decoration, greeting cards and such before Thanksgiving Day; the items are used to make things like cardboard tunnels and snow forts, slides and frisbees. The first week of December is spent creating the course that sprawls across most of the gymnasium floor.
  Elementary students spend the next two weeks enjoying the "madness" during their scheduled physical education period.
  "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells," sings fourth-grader Dylan Rish as a classmate pulls him around in the cardboard sleigh. Two other boys simultaneously throw rubber chickens back and forth at one end of the gym while three girls hang upside down on makeshift monkey bars, giggling as they dangle near the wooden floor.
  "They (students) probably get more out of these two weeks of activities than they do all year," says Fisher.
  The children pair up when they arrive and are soon off and running. After about three minutes, Fisher yells "Clean up!" and the students hustle to put the stations back in order. Then the instruction "Switch!" is given and each pair moves on to another intriguing activity.
  The real amazing part occurs at the end of each day when students take apart and stack the entire course back on the stage in about nine minutes. The floor must be cleared for after-school activities such as basketball practice.
  "We've got it down to a system," Fisher brags.
  The course is a little different each year depending on the imagination of its grade-school creators.
  And each year Fisher says he contemplates ending the tradition. But then he reminds himself that all the climbing, throwing, running and crawling around truly is physical education at its best.
  "It's great exercise, the kids get sweaty and hot, their hearts are beating hard... . What's the goal of this class? That is the goal of this class," he says with a smile.


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