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Alex Keeton, 12, bench-presses free weights while his father, Staff Sgt. David Thomas, spots him and mother Ruby Thomas watches Wednesday in Bamberg, Germany. A new Warner Barracks program allows children 12 to 16 to be certified through Child and Youth Services to use the gym without a parent present, but the Thomases still make it a family affair.
Alex Keeton, 12, bench-presses free weights while his father, Staff Sgt. David Thomas, spots him and mother Ruby Thomas watches Wednesday in Bamberg, Germany. A new Warner Barracks program allows children 12 to 16 to be certified through Child and Youth Services to use the gym without a parent present, but the Thomases still make it a family affair. (Rick Emert / S&S)

BAMBERG, Germany — The 279th Base Support Battalion’s Child and Youth Services has found a way to get children off the couch after school and into a fitness routine.

A gym certification class that began in November allows youth ages 12 to 16 to use the gym without having a parent present, said Kathy McGill, a CYS instructor for the course. Prior to the class being offered, no child younger than 16 could use the gym without a parent present.

“We offer these classes to give kids the chance to use weight training and cardio training to better themselves fitness-wise,” McGill said. “Kids who are not signed up in organized sports can come to the gym instead of being couch potatoes.”

The class covers everything from safety and gym etiquette to proper weight-lifting techniques and a beginner’s workout regimen.

At least one parent must attend the one-hour, one-time class with the child. Although there have been no problems since the program began, McGill said any one who has been certified must follow the rules of the gym. Failing to do so can lead to a suspension of gym privileges, she said.

Once they have taken the course, the kids can use anything in the gym but the sauna. They must sign in and wear a special ID tag attached to the laces on one of their shoes to let the gym staff know that they are certified to use the gym without a parent present, McGill said.

During the class, Sgt. Maj. Renaldo Waterman, a certified master fitness trainer from the 7th Corps Support Group, shows the teens and preteens how to properly lift weights without causing injury and also provides a routine they can start with.

“What I do is make sure they have a plan, that they know what they want to achieve by coming to the gym,” Waterman said, adding that most of the dozen kids who have taken the class since it began were interested in weight training. “They want to look good,” he said.

While Waterman advises the young fitness buffs to avoid free weights, Alex Keeton, 12, has free weights at home and that’s what he prefers to use at the gym, he said. He went through the first certification class offered in November.

“I use the [weight machines] for my legs, but mostly I lift free weights,” Alex said. “The class was great, because it teaches you how to not strain yourself when you’re working out.”

Alex’s mother, Ruby Thomas, said the change in policy has allowed her family to spend some quality time together.

“I can understand the policy of not allowing younger kids in the gym, but I’m glad this class is available now,” Thomas said. “Alex is already proficient at weight lifting. Now he can come with us to the gym and we can all work out together.”

Fitness aside, certifying teens to use the gym also helps keep them occupied.

“This is a good program,” Waterman said. “It keeps kids off the streets and keeps them from running around out there and maybe getting into trouble.”

Starting in January, the 279th Base Support Battalion’s gym certification class will be offered at 5 p.m. every first and third Thursday of the month. Preregistration is not required. Children and a parent should just show up at the JFK Gym on Warner Barracks in Bamberg, Germany. The 98th Area Support Group, which includes the 279th BSB, is considering expanding the program to other communities.

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