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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

Springfield Township: Dorr youngsters climb their way to health

Collin Wingert, left, and Andrew Nasta race across the climbing wall in the gym at Dorr Elementary School. Collin Wingert, left, and Andrew Nasta race across the climbing wall in the gym at Dorr Elementary School.

Like so many young Spidermen and Spiderwomen, youngsters at Dorr Elementary School in Springfield Township spend part of their physical education classes bending into contortions as they make their way along the schools's climbing wall.

It's one of the few installed in an area school, and has brought a renewed interest in physical education to the youngsters, according to principal Ken Newbury.

Mr. Newbury said the school bought the wall for about $4,000 primarily through fund-raising.

It's been a big hit.

"The biggest concern was liability," he said. "We didn't want anybody getting hurt," but he pointed out that the children's feet are never more than 2 1/2 feet off the ground.

"It's more a traverse wall than a climbing wall," he noted.

It covers much of the east end of the school's gym. When it's not in use, the padding under it is pulled up and locked in place so the wall's not usable.

Shapes are affixed to the wall and they have three levels of grip difficulty. Instructors can make the exercise more difficult by having the youngsters only use the most difficult or using different combinations.

Jim Walerius, a teacher at the school, installed a board near the bottom of the wall so some children who were afraid to try it could use an easy path from one end to another.

"Now some of those kids love it," he said.

Mr. Newbury said there are exercises in which students are held together with a Hula Hoop that teaches them cooperation.

Some of the grips are the letters of the alphabet and instructors can include the spelling of a word as a requirement of crossing the wall.

Teacher Matt Lindau is an avid rock climber and has started a Wednesday afternoon climbing club for fourth and fifth graders that has about 25 students climbing the wall at Dorr Elementary.

He said he hopes to expand the activity so younger students can also use the wall after school.

Collin Wingert, a fifth-grader and a member of the climbing club, said the wall "is not like normal gym. It's a lot more fun and challenging," he said.

Mr. Newbury said the wall has been such a hit that he hopes to add panels to the apparatus with money from fund-raisers.

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