Merritt visits Booker T. Washington

Published 10:05 pm Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Booker T. Washington Elementary auditorium was buzzing with excited giggles and chatter from the students as they anticipated a special guest.

In the back of the auditorium, Subway employees from all over the region filed in with the restaurant mascot. Just behind them was four-time Olympic medalist LaShawn Merritt.

Once the students caught sight of Merritt, the auditorium roared with excitement and cheer. Merritt walked down the aisle through the sea of wide-eyed students and found a seat on stage.

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“It was like Christmas time for them,” said Roberta Branch, the school’s assistant principal. “It was a moment for all of us — especially the students.”

The assembly was a part of Subway’s “Fit for Life Challenge ” kickoff event. The program’s objective is to encourage exercise and healthy living among youth.

After Merritt gave a few remarks, he decided to put the initiative into action.

He had students and teachers perform a variety of stretches and jumping jacks in front of their seats.

Booker T. Washington was one of six city elementary schools selected for the program. Twenty-five elementary schools and 8,800 students from Nags Head to Williamsburg are registered to participate in the program, according to a press release.

Participating schools will track the daily movement minutes of their students from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4. The two Tidewater schools with the greatest number of minutes will win $1,000 worth of sports equipment.

Additionally, every student who participates in the challenge will earn one coupon for a free Subway Kids Meal or a six-inch sandwich.

According to reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the city’s obesity rate is 30 percent.

Bristy Ball, a local Subway franchise owner, said Merritt was a perfect fit for the program.

“He’s into fitness and choosing a healthier lifestyle,” Ball said. “He’s someone who connects with the community.”

“It’s very key for the students to see someone who was local and become a national figure,” Branch said.

Merritt, a Portsmouth native, said giving back to the community and health is very important to him.

“I appreciate Subway for helping with kids with the message about being fit,” he said. “I want to inspire the youth to be better and better.”

Merritt’s longtime friend, Kenneth Taylor, said Merritt has been community-oriented from the beginning.

“He loves coming home and giving back, ever since he’s been in the sport,” he said. “He’s down-to-earth too.”

Subway also provided students with free sandwiches.

The two winning schools for Subway’s initiative will be selected in the coming weeks.