A number of public schools across the country are removing or downsizing their physical education departments, but one school in Arizona is embracing and growing its offerings to young student athletes..

Bigger, faster and stronger are generally the words associated with a weight training program, but the staff at Red Mountain High School is taking a different approach.

In his office draped in athletic photos of his playing days at Adelphi University, where he played baseball, Red Mountain’s athletic director Dr. James Gowdy highlighted how strength training has changed.

“A lot of the focus of strength training now is building up athletes, but also injury prevention,” Gowdy said.

A study conducted by the University of Florida showed that weight lifting is key in preventing severe injuries. The researchers found that non-lifting athletes accounted for 78 percent of severe upper body injuries and 64 percent of severe lower body injuries.

According to mensjournal.com, in order to prevent injuries one should, “maintain a baseline of fitness so that you can respond to physical challenges without harm, with the right knowledge and preparation, many injuries can be diminished or entirely prevented.”

For Red Mountain, coach Ben Brandau brings that knowledge.

Brandau, an Iowa native and graduate of the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, serves as Red Mountain’s head strength coach. Brandau, who’s coached most of his life, reinforced Gowdy’s statements.

“Safety is the number one priority we want to be strong we want to be fast we want to jump high making sure each kids safety is ensured,” Brandau said.

Brandau, and his fellow staff members April Steiner-Bennett, Josh Barge, Jake Kober, Mike Rung and Bryan Rice, conduct daily weight lifting classes. They emphasize that students use proper lifting techniques in three different sized facilities.

According to stopsportsinjuries.org a website that specializes in preventing injuries states that “High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries a year,”

With so many injuries found in high school athletes, Red Mountain made injury prevention a priority. Athletes and Red Mountain’s athletic trainer Richard Kates noticed a decrease in injuries.

“This year has been much better than last year,” Kates said. “Last year we had 19 ACL tears, all non-contact. This year we have only had three.”

Kates credits the decrease in injuries to the variance of lifts performed in the weight room.

“Changing the way we lift, we have gone from doing all exclusively back squats to now we are doing mostly front squats and a little bit of back squats,” Kates said.

The study by the University of Florida showed that defensive linemen are the most frequently injured.

Gabe Williams, a senior defensive lineman at Red Mountain, found a way to stay healthy. He said the weight training program helped him prevent severe injuries and stay on the playing field.

“There are plenty of times in the middle of the game where I should have messed up my knee, my ankle or something every game,” Williams said. “The workouts Brandau puts us through, all the injury prevention stuff, it really does help us a lot. I honestly can say my season stayed alive because of those.”

In addition to preventing injuries, Red Mountain educates students in the classroom on how to prevent injuries.

“We have a full-time sports medicine trainer who teaches sports medicine classes to students who may be interested in entering that field,” Gowdy said. “There is also an internship component to that so they work with teams.”

In order to fulfil their internship requirement, students are regularly in the training room taping ankles or on the sideline icing sprains.    

With one in five children in the U.S. battling obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Red Mountain is dedicated to motivating their students to lead healthier lives.

This is another nation-wide issue Red Mountain has helped address by investing in physical education.

Parker Walters, a junior volleyball player at Red Mountain, has been positively impacted by the school’s changes.  

“Being able to show up every day and work hard with a great coach helps me to be oriented both in the weight-lifting mindset and outside of school, being able to watch my weight,” Walters said. “Recently, I got back from being more overweight, and weightlifting to me has just been this huge improvement, this lifestyle that I live now where I can eat better and lift weights just has been a huge impact to help me both physically and mentally.”

Red Mountain’s weight lifting program is one of the largest programs in the state of Arizona.

 “We have a very large and robust PE department. You look across the country with budget concerns with public education, there have been many high schools, not just in Arizona but across the country, that have had to downsize their PE department. In the past four years our PE department has grown,” Gowdy said.

 “We have three facilities, three different sizes, we push close to 1,200 kids through the weight room,” Brandau said.

Even with so many students filling the weight room, Red Mountain keeps the performance level high.   

Steiner-Bennett, a former Olympic pole vaulter and one of Red Mountain’s weight training coaches, doesn’t think any other high school in the state compares to Red Mountain.

“A lot of other schools don’t have a weight lifting program like Red Mountain, it’s unmatched as far as I know in my career,” she said.

Steiner-Bennett's comments were echoed by students, who've been impressed by the facilities they get to use at their high school.

“I’d say it’s definitely one of the best in Mesa, maybe Arizona in general,” Williams said. “Just the energy in there, the way the comradery is and everyone yelling at each other to get it done, just everyone starting to get pumped. The electricity in the air is amazing.”

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