The event, now in its second year, gives students from Washington Heights and Inwood a chance to do their sprinting, hurdling, jumping and tossing on one of the country’s best-known indoor tracks, which happens to be located right in their backyard.
The Games are not a competition, however.
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who conceived of the event, said it’s one strategy to promote healthy habits and combat what he called an alarmingly high childhood obesity rate in upper Manhattan.
The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2011 that 20.7% of New York City public school students, ages 5 to 14, were clinically obese.
“Children uptown, in that particular area, aren’t running and aren’t exercising, so last year we decided to instill the responsibility to stay fit,” Espaillat told the Daily News. “Last year, 300 students from 20 schools signed up and it’s almost doubled this year.”
Espaillat said the Armory Foundation and New York Road Runners will provide training to students in grades 3 to 8 participating in the team-oriented events.
Espaillat, a former athlete, said he hoped the Games inspire more schools to launch a competitive track and field program to augment the state-mandated physical education classes.
Last year’s event led to the creation of five or six teams, said Espaillat, crediting support from parents, sponsors and District 6 Schools Superintendent Elsa Nunez, who is being honored on Saturday.
“Elsa Nunez has been a tremendous leader for our children, and a force for positive change in our neighborhood,” said Espaillat. “Nunez recognized the harm that childhood obesity poses for our community, and she has been a terrific partner in encouraging our students to participate in the Uptown Games.”
The executive director of the Armory Foundation, Dr. Norbert Sander, said he didn’t mind making space at the nation’s busiest indoor track and field facility for youth activities such as this.
Sander, a lifetime runner and the only New York resident to ever win the New York City Marathon, is also an internist. It’s in that capacity that he sees the health benefits that await children who participate in athletic competition.
“As a doctor, I’ve seen over the years what a terrific influence exercise has on health, fitness and school grades,” said Sander. “When I was younger, a lot of people helped me, so I am hoping to do the same for these youngsters.”
The Uptown Games will be run on Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory, 216 Fort Washington Ave.