Baltimore Ravens challenge students to get fit

More than 100 gradeschoolers, 70 volunteers and a Baltimore Raven or two are scheduled to descend on the Maryland Zoo today in a localized, kids' version of the acclaimed reality TV show "The Amazing Race" — part of a nationwide campaign to stamp out childhood obesity.

The event, part of the National Football League's "Play 60" campaign, is aimed at getting American children to be more physically active. Fourth and fifth-graders from Baltimore's City Springs Elementary School will compete in teams of four through challenges on the zoo's grounds.

This is the second year for the event, which is organized by Baltimore Ravens' staff and volunteers and sponsored by the United Way, M&T Bank and athletic company Under Armour. Last year's race had the kids waddling like penguins, eating fruit like elephants, and doing crane mating dances, much to the delight of zoo employees, said zoo spokesperson Jane Ballentine.

Melanie LeGrande, the Ravens' director of community relations, came up with the idea for the event because of a shared love she and a colleague had for the CBS show that features two-person teams racing around the world, led by deciphered clues. Previously, LeGrande said, the team had aimed its community service efforts at families, via Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for low-income people.

"We went a different route last year," LeGrande said. "We were really looking for an exciting event that would get kids involved."

Participants will also receive a free pair of athletic shoes, something LeGrande said many Baltimore youngsters need.

"We know that the kids in the city are at such a lack for quality sneakers," LeGrande said. "A lot of times kids don't even know their shoe sizes because they haven't bought their shoes in so long."

Ravens wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is expected to attend the event, she said.

jtorbati@baltsun.com

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