August 11, 2006 | By: Carol Lea Spence
LEXINGTON, KY.

The sun may have been sizzling and the mercury stuck in the low 90s, but more than 500 kids at Jacobson Park in Lexington couldn't have cared less. There were important things to do: slides to plummet down, obstacle courses to run and University of Kentucky athletes to meet at the VERB Summer Scorecard Grand Finale.

The annual Summer Scorecard program is under the umbrella of “VERB™ It’s What You Do,” a national campaign developed by the Centers for Disease Control to encourage 9- to 13-year-old children, or “tweens,” to become more physically active. The name VERB is not an acronym. Like its grammatical namesake, VERB is all about action. 

Melonie Thomas, a CDC health communications specialist with the VERB campaign, was on hand for Lexington’s grand finale. She explained that the difference between this campaign and others was that it didn’t try to educate the kids on why it’s important to be active.

“It’s about getting the kids out to have fun, play, do things like we used to do when we were kids; things that are more active than being in front of the computer and in front of the television screen,” Thomas said.

UK Cooperative Extension Service has an ongoing presence in the Lexington Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition, the group that originated the idea of the VERB Summer Scorecard. 

“What makes it (VERB) great is that it’s consistent with our Extension message, which emphasizes what people are supposed to do and how to do it,” said Janet Tietyen, an Extension specialist in food and nutrition, and a coalition member. “That’s a better message in today’s world than why people should do it. So it doesn’t say anything about health. It’s about get moving, have some fun, find your verb.”

With 7,000 verbs in the English dictionary, kids have plenty of action words from which to choose.

“The kids can pick verbs that they can fall in love with, master and take on as their own,” said Anita Courtney, chairperson of the Lexington Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition.

The coalition is “dedicated to making physical activity and healthy eating popular and accessible to Lexington tweens,” Courtney said. The group includes representatives from the YMCA, Lexington Parks and Recreation, the Explorium and Extension.

The idea for the VERB Summer Scorecard resulted from a brainstorming session with national VERB Director Faye Wong. It was based on successful programs that asked kids to keep track of their summer reading as well as an arts and cultural program that used a “passport,” Courtney said.

“And with that, the Summer Scorecard was born. The scorecard is a ticket for fun for 9- to 13-year-olds and it gives them free and reduced-priced admission for swimming, skating, bowling, water games and other activities,” she said.

All the physical activity options were listed on a card, giving parents and kids easy access to ideas. Every hour of activity throughout the summer was recorded on the card and then initialed by an adult. Kids brought their cards to the grand finale where they received tickets for prize drawings based on the number of active hours they had recorded.

Prizes in keeping with the VERB theme of action were donated by local merchants. They included bikes, scooters, helmets and golf lessons. Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac and area sportscaster Dave Baker were on hand to present the prizes. 

For many of the kids, an even bigger prize was having Lexington as a stop on the popular Yellowball tour. Thomas said that Yellowball is based on the idea of passing play along. Tour officials set up activity areas at the grand finale that included tunnels, exercise areas and obstacle courses. Yellow balls were handed out to the participants. After they play with the balls, kids are asked to pass them on to someone else. Each ball has a number assigned to it, so kids can go online, enter their ball code and track its progress.

“When I was on vacation I saw kids with yellow balls at movie theatres, stadiums and airports. The yellow balls are coveted,” said Courtney. “The national tour is going to big cities around the country and Lexington was lucky to be put on the tour schedule.”

Jackie Walters, an Extension nutrition education associate, was part of the planning committee for the scorecard program. 

“This is the third year for the VERB Scorecard and it grows every year,” she said. “It’s beginning now to be recognized. The kids are starting to look for the cards at the end of the (school) year and look forward to seeing what kind of community involvement we’re going to have and what kinds of opportunities there are going to be for special deals in the community. It’s getting better all the time.”

And it’s no longer a local program. Courtney said there are six other sites in Kentucky, as well as scorecard programs in Nebraska, Florida and Colorado.

Not only is the idea spreading, but it seems to be working, too. The University of South Florida, in evaluating the program after the second year, found that kids who knew about the overall VERB campaign were more active than kids who didn’t, Courtney said. For the local creators of the scorecard program, the news was even better. 

“Kids who knew about the VERB Summer Scorecard were more active than those who just knew about the national campaign,” she said, “which suggests that the local tie-in with a scorecard program increases activity.”

“I’m very impressed with what’s going on in Lexington,” said the CDC’s Thomas. “Very impressed with what they’ve done, very impressed with the event here today. The kids are excited and we just need to see a lot more of this throughout.”

Contact: 

Janet Tietyen, 859-257-1812, Jackie Walters, 859-257-2948, ext. 80320, Anita Courtney, 859-229-8400