PITTSBURG — Friday will see the bittersweet end to a 25 year tradition.

The final Kansas Kids Fitness Day at Pittsburg State University is scheduled, after a quarter century of fun and education for area children.

For the final time, third graders across southeast Kansas will make their way to campus by the bus load for a day of physical and nutritional education with dancing, relay races, parachute, karate and more.  

“I think the lowest number of students we’ve ever had was 800, sometimes there were over 1,000,” Professor of Physical Education Rob Hefley said. “Virtually, every school district in southeast Kansas attended.”

PSU’s Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation host the event and HHPR students take part in the organizing activities for the third graders.

“The students play a big part working with the kids,” Hefley said. “It’s a great experience for them.”  

Collegiate students work with third graders and apply the knowledge they were taught in the classroom, Hefley said.  

Activities spanning across the Plaster Center bring excitement for all the children involved each year.

“There’s nothing that comes close to the excitement that is going to happen on Friday,” Shelly Grimes, HHPR instructor and event coordinator said. “Were looking at 1,000 third graders doing physical activities at one time.”

The annual event was founded in 1993 by Tom Bryant, who was at the time a member of the Governor’s Council for Physical Fitness. He wanted to create a statewide initiative to encourage physical activity.

“We are trying to combat childhood obesity and trying to get the kids more active,” Grimes said.  “Childhood obesity is a crisis in America, if they are more aware of how important it is to get daily exercise then I feel like I'm doing my job as the fitness director at PSU.”

The first Kansas Kids Fitness Day was in Topeka and Pittsburg State University followed the following year at the school’s practice football fields. Organizers said the state ceased funding for the program last year and Friday will be the final event at the Plaster Center.

“It’s kinda bittersweet, just because it seems the event has came to a full circle in my life,”  Grimes said. “I got to be involved in the event as a student and now director.”

Grimes said she had the opportunity to work with the previous organizers, Bryant and Hefley. Grimes’ daughters and Hefley’s sons have followed their footsteps making the final event even more bittersweet, she said.

“Now our very own children — Rob’s sons and my daughters — are students doing same thing we did as collegiate students,” Grimes said.   

Both of Grimes’ daughters will be there assisting with the activities on Friday.

“It’s come full circle,” she said.

Grimes said in the future she plans to instead send smaller group of student to local elementary schools to do similar activities.

“We currently do it, but we will do more of it,” she said. “We have been fortunate that our local physical education teachers have been cooperative to let the students go out into their classroom and give hands on training time.”

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.