AdVantage News | Andrew Richards
Mark Begando, the principal at Lewis and Clark Junior High, demonstrates how to use the chest fly exercise on a multi-circuit machine in the junior high’s weight room.
WOOD RIVER - Mark Begando is a man on a mission.
The principal at Lewis and Clark Junior High in the Wood River-Hartford school district is - along with the school’s physical education teachers - taking active steps to get his students in shape.
He recently received a weight-lifting gym set worth about $48,000 through a Wood River chiropractor, Dr. Mike Harbison, who sold the equipment to Begando for $12,500.
The gym set consists of four commercial treadmills, three ellipticals, a couple of stairmasters and several pieces of weight-lifting machines that include bench presses, lateral pull-downs and shoulder presses.
“We felt like we had a need for some kind of weight-training equipment so we can get these kids a little bigger, stronger, faster, which is something we’re pushing for,” Begando said.
Begando approached the idea of a fitness area in the junior high’s basement due to students only receiving a certain calorie intake a day thanks to Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ initiative - a movement set up to combat childhood obesity.
“Our kids are getting about 600 calories a day,” said Begando. “I think they need to get a little bit more than that, but I also think they need to get stronger. So [they not only need] to get healthy and eat healthy, but they need to develop some healthy habits.”
About the same time Begando thought of the aforementioned gym idea in October of last year, Harbison approached a friend of his - Bank of Edwardsville employee Rhonda Pleuster - about selling the equipment to raise money for a $23,000 X-ray machine in his office in Wood River.
Pleuster simply connected the two men together through e-mail after Begando approached Bank of Edwardsville about receiving a donation for gym equipment.
The two men agreed on Begando purchasing the equipment for a little more than half of what Harbison needed for the x-ray machine.
Begando - through donations - rose a little over $4,100 before he went to the school board to ask for help in paying for the rest of the gym equipment. The board agreed to loan the money needed - around $8,000.
Companies such as Acropolis Technology Group in Wood River, Bank of Edwardsville and Paynic Home for Funerals in East Alton made donations to help pay for the equipment. Roger Lewis, executive assistant at Simmons, Attorneys at Law, in Alton also made a contribution. Lewis attended the junior high as a teenager, and said that is why he donated.
“I’ve never done anything for [Lewis and Clark Junior High] before,” Lewis said. “I was able to do it and it was a good cause.”
Begando said he is hoping to have the loan from the board paid by the end of next school year through help from fundraisers like a trivia night and silent auction at 6:30 p.m. on March 8 at the junior high.
He said the investment is worth it though.
“I’ve felt that [the fitness area] was going to be beneficial for our students,” Begando said. “Not only that, but our staff could use it as well.”
Harbison said he did not realize how much of an affect his donation would have on the students and staff at the junior high.
“We knew it was kind of a big impact, but we didn’t really know how impactful until we got over there,” Harbison said. “This was a way bigger deal than we give it credit for.”
Harbison said he and his wife made the decision in October to give the equipment up for donation, but it was not until December that a few pieces of the equipment started making its way over to the school.
“[The junior high] is going to do a lot of good things with it,” Harbison said, “and that’s cool.”