We're here today to sound the alarm. We've lost our fundamental value of being active and just playing. I hope we get the idea out that it's good to be active. —Olympic speedskater Derek Parra

HOLLADAY — Students at Crestview Elementary School welcomed some special visitors to their morning jog Tuesday — Olympians Derek Parra and Emily Cook, Paralympian Chris Waddell and professional soccer player Jacqui Little Rimando.

The athletes visited the school as part of a presentation on the importance of physical education and healthy lifestyles. The visit coincided with an award being granted to Granite School District by the organization Champions for America's Future.

Parra, a speedskater who has participated in several Olympics, including the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, said he is troubled by the increasing rates of child obesity.

"We're here today to sound the alarm," he said. "We've lost our fundamental value of being active and just playing. I hope we get the idea out that it's good to be active."

Each athlete spoke to the students about the role athletics has played in their lives. They then joined the students in their daily run around the school playground, referred to by the students and staff as the "Jolly Jog."

For the past two years, Granite School District has put an emphasis on physical education, using certified P.E. specialists to teach at least one 45-minute class per week in elementary schools.

Jenny Grosh, Granite's elementary P.E. coordinator, said the difference between the Granite program and what sometimes happens in other schools is the use of dedicated district resources and a physical education curriculum that instructs students on healthy living habits as opposed to setting out a bag of balls in the gymnasium.

Grosh also said teachers are encouraged to hold three- to five-minute activity breaks throughout their classes to re-energize and animate students for academic study.

"I think we're the only district that has certified P.E. teachers in every elementary school," she said. "This is our second year, and all we've had is positive feedback."

At Crestview, the faculty goes beyond the district requirements with its daily Jolly Jog, in which each class at some point in the day runs laps around the playground.

Principal Verneita Hunt said she worked at schools in the past with a similar daily running activity, and she worked with her staff to create the Jolly Jog soon after arriving at Crestview eight years ago.

"I believe in it," Hunt said. "You cannot separate the mind and body."

Second-grade student Samuel Romney said the daily run helps give him the energy and focus to make it through the day's academic subjects. He also said his favorite sports to play are soccer and "wall ball."

"We jog almost every day," Samuel said. "It works because my brain works and I have all the energy."

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On Tuesday, the students excitedly raced around Parra, Waddell and Cook or dribbled a soccer ball alongside Rimando, who is married to Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

During an assembly at Crestview, Rimando told students that playing sports gave her the confidence she needed to participate in class and contribute in the workplace. She challenged the students to commit to at least 30 minutes every day of physical activity.

"There are lots of things that sports teaches you," said Rimando, who played in the now-defunct Women's United Soccer Association. "Thirty minutes? That's nothing. That's one 'Dora the Explorer.'"

E-mail: benwood@deseretnews.com