NAC’s Jim Worthington, National Fitness Foundation look to get America’s youth in shape

Former NFL running back Herschel Walker (right) and Newtown Athletic Club owner Jim Worthington are teaming up to promote and assist the National Fitness Foundation, which supports getting Americans more physically fit, especially the nation's youth. (Contributed photo)

You don’t need to be reminded that, in general, Americans need to get in better shape.

No one has to tell you that more than a third of our population is overweight and two-thirds aren’t fit enough to pass minimal training standards.

So why would anyone be surprised when a group of concerned citizens, starting at the very top of our government, set out to solve the issue.

That’s what led to the forming of the National Fitness Foundation nearly 10 years ago.

The NFF is the only congressionally chartered nonprofit focused on health and fitness. It’s the official charity of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition and its mission is “to develop public-private partnerships and raise capital to accelerate solutions that prepare children for a lifetime of health and fitness through youth sports.’’

In essense, this organization is attempting to get children to not only get into sports but stay there.

Statistics show a drastic dropoff in youth physical activity over the first two decades of this century.

While some progress by NFF has been made, there’s still a long way to go.

Newtown Athletic Club owner Jim Worthington stands at the forefront of this movement, both here in Bucks County and on a national scale.

Worthington has been involved in the project for some time and on Thursday he will be co-hosting a luncheon in Philadelphia along with former Eagles running back Herschel Walker to celebrate the launch of America’s first National Endowment for Youth Sports.

It’s a chance to introduce the concept of a perpetual funding source for the work of the Foundation to interested parties who will be able to support and/or create awareness for the endeavor.

Representatives from local professional sports teams and high-level corporations will be in attendance at the private event at The Fitler Club on Market Street.

Joining them will be Pennsylvania congresswoman Madeleine Dean and Pennsylvania congressman Brian Fitzpatrick.

Simply put, the organization is trying to raise awareness about the situation.

Other members of the Foundation include Hall of Fame relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, six-time Super Bowl champion coach Bill Belichick and former Yankee-Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon.

“The whole idea for assembling all these sports figures is to try to find a reason why kids aren’t participating anymore,’’ Worthington says. “In the last eight years, the participation (in sports) for kids under (age) 17 has gone from 45 percent to 36 percent.

“Seventy percent of kids 13 and up stop playing youth sports. So obviously there’s a huge problem.’’

How serious is it?

“It’s a national crisis,’’ Worthington says.

The NFF seeks ways to form a strategy to combat the problem at the grassroots level.

It goes beyond just a daily health crisis.

At the national level, if the United States reached a day when it required a military draft again, 70 percent of candidates ages 17 to 24 would fail to pass a basic fitness test.

So you could say the issue affects national security as well.

“The Foundation has been charged with trying to find a way to provide opportunity to get kids more engaged,’’ Worthington says. “Especially in the inner cities and rural areas where they don’t have the facilities and programs.

“We’re raising money for this National Endowment for Youth Sports that will go in perpetuity. It will go beyond each U.S. president’s tenure in office. It’s something we can continue forever. We’re growing it through donations so it continues for years to come.’’

Clay Walker, executive director of the NFF, will be in attendance at the luncheon to inform the group of the work in progress to meet the goals of the organization.

The NFF is enlisting the help of fitness experts such as Texas-based Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a familiar name to many runners, and John Butler from the Pop Warner football program.

The Foundation also leads the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, the nation’s model for fitness education in schools.

Getting parents involved is key. Setting aside time from other activities – be it homework, video games, television, etc. – is crucial to having children exercise on a daily basis.

That and a healthy diet are a winning formula.

“It’s about what is going to get kids to participate more,’’ Worthington says. “One of the biggest things is to educate the adults. . .to make them understand you have to make these things where everybody is engaged and to make it fun.

“You have to start changing the way people run these programs. It’s not just about competition, it’s participation. So that from the best to everyone else on down, they’re valued.’’

More information on the National Fitness Foundation can be found at:

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About Wayne Fish 2473 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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