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Playing to win

Mary Pickels
| Saturday, May 5, 2012, 3:23 a.m.

When her physical education teacher at Jeannette McKee Elementary/Middle School handed out entry forms for a contest last September, Rebecca March was not sure she would even enter.

The fourth-grader didn't think she stood a chance.

"Every contest I've entered," said Rebecca, 10, "I got close to winning, but never won. My mom thought I should enter and try my best."

Soon after entering, she learned that she was a winner of the monthly grand prize Nickelodeon Network is presenting to students across the country through its "Let's Just Play Giveaway."

The $5,000 Rebecca's school was awarded will be used to purchase a climbing wall for the school's gymnasium.

The cable television channel, which produces such children's and teens' favorites as "Hey Arnold," "Jimmy Neutron," "Zoey 101" and "The Brothers Garcia," also sponsors a Worldwide Day of Play. Once a year, the channel goes dark for three hours in an effort to encourage kids around the world to "just play."

The channel is incorporating more physical activity into its programming and urging its young viewers to become more active. The channel's Web site says "active, healthy and playful lifestyles" are needed to combat rising childhood obesity rates and children's sometimes "over-scheduled and sedentary lifestyles."

A few years ago, the station launched its "Let's Just Play Giveaway." Each month through June, Nickelodeon will award a minimum of 20 winners with $5,000 each to help their school and community facilitate health and fitness goals.

Entry forms ask students to tell Nickelodeon what they need for their schools to help them play better and why, and give three reasons why play is important. Winning entry forms then are randomly selected.

Elementary physical education teacher Millie Elliott and middle school physical education teacher Donna Silvis learned about the program last fall.

They handed out entry forms to students, but it was the students' responsibility to fill them out and return them. Elliot was unsure how many students may have entered the contest.

But she is as excited as Rebecca is that their school won.

"It's something that we've been wanting to get," Elliott said of the climbing wall. "We thought, if we get this $5,000, that's what we'll do."

She visited several school districts and a local YMCA to view their climbing walls before deciding to order from Minnesota firm Everlast Climbing Industries.

The wall is 20 feet long and 8 feet high, and it includes safety nets and mats.

Elliott hopes it will be installed by the end of March.

And as excited as Rebecca was to win, she can recall only one of the three reasons she included on her entry form for why she thought play was important.

"That we needed more exercise in our school," she said.

"Some students just like to run," she added. "I thought we needed different kinds of activities to do. That's why I asked for a rock climbing wall. I knew that she (Elliott) wanted something big to put in the gym.

"I've been up a rock climbing wall," she said, "and I know how much fun it is."

Rebecca said she and a friend tried out the wall at the UPMC Sports Works at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, a trip they earned for their good report cards.

The walls are popular at various health clubs, schools and many outdoor festivals.

They're a fun way for students to get their exercise, Elliott said, as well as to help them with coordination.

"We're really starting to stress fitness," she said. "This is another aspect of that for them."

The wall has foot- and handholds, and the younger students can cross horizontally, rather than vertically.

"We'll make it more complicated for the older ones," Elliott said.

Because the students just entered the contest last fall, everyone was surprised when Rebecca was named a winner in October.

"I went home and saw a message on the answering machine," Rebecca said. "It told me I won."

Rebecca was asked to send in some information about herself and a photograph for future publication in the network's magazine. She also won some individual prizes, including a Frisbee, a hat and wristbands.

When Principal Dr. Richard King told Elliott the school had won, she was so thrilled she asked him to repeat the information several times.

"We were really excited. Every day the kids ask, 'When's our climbing wall coming?'" she said.

Rebecca said her friends are looking forward to its arrival.

"They were happy (that she won), because they wanted a rock wall, too," she said.

Rebecca, the daughter of Sandy and William Marsh, said she, her parents and siblings often watch Nickelodeon. Her favorite shows include "Drake and Josh," "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Rugrats All Grown Up."

The "Let's Just Play Giveaway" is open to students ages 6-15 as of May 31. They can apply for their after-school, community-based organizations and their public and private elementary and middle schools grades kindergarten through nine.

For more information, see Nickelodeon's Web site at .

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