Group exercise classes commonly revolve around yoga, cycling or dance. And then there’s kickboxing — a collective of combat sports based on kicking and punching. It’s considered a hybrid martial art that incorporates a combination of elements from various other fighting styles, from karate to boxing.
A sport based on fighting may sound a bit primal, and perhaps not something you would expect to find in a school classroom. Yet the Wellness Committee at Mount Morris Central School District used this activity as a vehicle for compassion and personal enjoyment.
Sarah Williams, secretary to the superintendent, district clerk, and wellness coordinator in Mount Morris, was inspired by the efforts of former school social worker Melissa Green. Williams noticed that for the past few years, the district had worked hard to bolster students and the community by organizing a backpack program, food pantry and Toys for Tots drive.
“As a Wellness Coordinator I wanted to help contribute to these programs,” Williams says. “For the 2016-17 school year the Wellness Committee really put a focus on helping our students and community members.”
The first fundraising effort took place in fall of 2016. Participants donated money to join a step challenge, and proceeds were donated to the district's Food Pantry.
Then, in winter of 2017, Spanish teacher Renson Mullen, who is a Wellness Committee member and kickboxer, volunteered to conduct kickboxing classes for faculty and staff. Williams describes Mullen as someone who actively searches for ways to connect the school with the community. Offering kickboxing classes was a perfect fit.
The classes started in January and ran twice a week for six weeks. The cost was $10 per person. The number of participants varied with each class, but eight people officially signed up and raised $80 for the Food Pantry.
Under Mullen’s supervision, participants learned a series of kicking and punching aerobic exercises that got their bodies moving and hearts pumping.
“Renson was a great teacher,” says Melessa Witkowski, former secretary to the principals. “We had a blast learning basic kickboxing techniques, building muscular strength and cardio workouts. The classes were over before we knew it.”
It’s true that kickboxing has combative roots and a bit of an aggressive personality, but that wasn’t how the class felt to participants.
“It was easy to determine where the kickboxing fitness classes were taking place,” Williams says. “You just had to follow the sounds of laughter, encouragement and practice pads taking a beating.”
Out of curiosity, Williams walked into a class and found everyone sweating, smiling and having a good time. But don’t mistake the fun for lack of aerobic effort. Mullen made sure to keep his participants moving and breathing hard.
Classes were oriented toward beginners and everyone enjoyed themselves so much that the Wellness Committee plans to bring the series back for the 2017-18 school year.