Orioles Health & Fitness Challenge returns to encourage kids

Children will learn about exercise, healthy eating and tobacco-free living in program's second year

Orioles Health & Fitness Challenge returns to encourage kids

BALTIMORE -- For thousands of children in Sarasota, Fla., Monday marked a healthy start.

For the consecutive second year, the Orioles and Sarasota County Schools have teamed up to encourage physical fitness, healthy eating and tobacco-free living among middle school children through the Orioles Health & Fitness Challenge. The program has expanded this year to include a greater focus on both nutrition and tobacco-free living, as well as more involvement from O's players, coaches and alumni.

The five-week challenge, which began Monday, will be offered in 10 county schools for approximately 4,000 students in sixth through eighth grade. Students will participate in a variety of health and fitness challenges, including exercises to build endurance, strength, flexibility, speed and balance. The schools' physical education teachers will present the challenge curriculum during regular school hours.

"I participated in the challenge last year, and I was eager to get involved again this season, especially with the program's enhanced focus on nutrition," O's pitcher Mike Wright said. "Personally, I enjoy eating healthy, not only because it makes me feel great, but because it gives me more energy to bring my very best effort to the mound. Children aren't always exposed to the benefits of healthy eating for a variety of reasons beyond their control. In this program, we not only inform them about nutrition, but also reward them for making smart, healthy choices."

Baltimore pitcher Mychal Givens, bench coach John Russell and former second baseman Brian Roberts were on hand Monday at Laurel Nokomis School to launch this year's program. Several additional Orioles players, coaches and alumni will participate in the program this season, including Wright, Brad Brach, Tyler Wilson, manager Buck Showalter, former player/broadcaster Jim Palmer and vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson.

Each week, students will learn a recipe for a nutritious snack they can make at home with their families. Also weekly, the students will watch an informational video about the dangers of tobacco.

Throughout the challenge, participating students earn O's-themed prizes and two free tickets to the Orioles' Spring Training game on Feb. 26. Participants also receive vouchers for complimentary concessions at the Orioles Fit Grill.

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.