Kids learn healthy habits from McDaniel's Fitness Buddies

Haven Turner, 8, and Owen Jarboe, 8 flank Roger Isom, who gives instructions as children take part in fitness exercises at McDaniel College.

A group of McDaniel College students and elementary school kids have only needed one thing to bond: a couple of hours in the gym together.

With a few balls, a plastic bat and some jump ropes, the newly established Fitness Buddies group meets weekly under the direction of Roger Isom, a McDaniel sophomore who designed the program.


It's kind of like Big Brothers Big Sisters for fitness, says Isom, an exercise science and physical education major.

"I want to show them that exercise isn't just for athletes," he says.


Isom, a 20-year-old from Annapolis, received a $1,500 Griswold-Zepp Award from McDaniel to create the Fitness Buddies program with the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster. The program matches about 20 club members ages 8 to 11 with seven McDaniel students. The participants work out and play games together in the college's gym on Friday afternoons.

The structure is part recess, part gym class. During a recent session, the kids played "Food Fat Attack." They took turns playing the role of a hamburger, nachos and other junk food items while others tagged them with balls, representing fat cells. To eliminate fat, the "junk food" had to exercise, Isom says.

"It was a lot of fun," he says.

In addition to playing games, the Boys & Girls Club members move through stations that include hula-hooping, jumping rope and playing sports such as basketball and soccer.

Started at the end of March, the program was an instant hit.

"The kids love it," Isom says.

Fitness Buddies is being incorporated into a Healthy Habits program at the Boys & Girls Club, says David Sampson, program director at the club and a 2013 McDaniel graduate.

"They love being around the college kids," Sampson says.


The McDaniel group has committed to work with the club members through the end of April, and possibly next school year.

"I love the idea of the McDaniel students working in the community," says Becky Allen, a professor in the exercise science and physical education department.

In his freshman year at McDaniel, Isom created the pilot program for Fitness Buddies — then only two sessions. But he needed money to purchase balls and other play equipment.

Fitness Buddies was one of four student projects to win the Griswold-Zepp Award this year, says Sara French, associate director of community engagement at McDaniel's Center for Experience and Opportunity.

The annual prize was established in 1991 in honor of Earl Griswold and Ira Zepp, longtime faculty advisers for Student Opportunities Service, a student volunteer program.

Isom's project stood out among the entries, in part, French says, because "it's not a one time project. It's sustainable."


At a time when technology can limit kids' outdoor activities, Allen says, it's important for children to be introduced to different types of fitness, how to deal with stress through exercise, and how to eat healthy.

Isom is "a great leader," Allen says. "The kids listen and respect him. And he's also really fun. They want to play."

Isom says he became interested in fitness in middle school, when he joined a gym.

"I started working out. I felt more confident and I started to look good too," he says.

While a student at Broadneck High School, Isom founded a fitness club. The group got together to work out, and local fitness instructors voluntarily taught classes.

French and other administrators have been impressed by Isom, who French says was looking for volunteer projects on campus as soon as he got to McDaniel.


"He was new and already saying, 'What can I do?' He's remarkable," French says.

Other McDaniel students signed on to Fitness Buddies, too, even those not majoring in physical education. Lina Kasaitis, a freshman from Crofton, is majoring in environmental studies with a minor in French, but she says she wanted to work with the kids.

"I could've worked at a desk, but that doesn't affect people's lives," she says.

Kasaitis, who studied ballet, quickly found common ground with the boys and girls: the Wii game Just Dance.

The group's fitness mentors are taking turns coming up with activities, as well as encouraging the kids to create their own games, Isom says.

"Our goal is to make sure they're moving," he says.


For more information about the Center for Experience and Opportunity at McDaniel, go to