WEST VALLEY CITY — There will be a new way to play football at West Valley City's fitness center this fall.

And it won't require any actual running, throwing, catching or tackling.

In fact, all that teenagers will need to play Madden NFL at the fitness center is a few dollars, opposable thumbs and a willingness to socialize out in cyberspace. The center will be providing the rest: television screens, controllers and four Microsoft XBox systems.

It's a surprising approach to fitness, but city leaders are hoping adding video-game tournaments to the fitness center's equipment will bring techno-savvy teens out of hiding to expose them to more traditional, non-virtual forms of exercise.

"When they first brought the concept to me, I think my reaction was like everyone's: 'Are you kidding? We're going to play video games at the fitness center?"' city manager Wayne Pyle said. "But I know lots of kids that don't play anything but video games and they never crawl out of their basement to play their games. This would at least get them to a venue that's outside of their home, into a public facility."

The fitness center plans to organize a Madden Football tournament concurrently with the NFL season and host games every week. Until then, within the next few months, the center will start organizing Rock Band tournaments twice a month.

Both of the games were selected because they are nonviolent, and participants will be required to pay

an as-yet-undetermined fee to play. Kevin Astill, parks and recreation director, says he hopes bringing gaming to the center will bring a hard-to-reach demographic — teenagers — to join the center's approximately 1,600 visitors every day.

"We've read articles about these in libraries in the eastern U.S., that they're doing (gaming) in the libraries and it's increased the number of books being checked out and the number of people going to the library," Astill said. "We don't see why it wouldn't work here as well."

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America — a nonprofit organization that provides a mentoring program for at-risk youth — also uses gaming as a tool to attract teenagers. The club doesn't have a chapter in West Valley City, but representatives say the program often brings West Valley teens to the nearest Salt Lake City chapter to participate.

"It has been a successful recruiting tool for us, and it's something that the kids enjoy," said Allison Barclay, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. "I don't think we'd lose our kids if we didn't have video games, but it's definitely a fun way to get the kids involved in the club."

Astill said it may be unusual to provide video games at an exercise center, but it's part of the evolutionary process of incorporating what's popular. The city added a Nintendo Wii system to the senior center in January, and since then, virtual bowling has become incredibly popular, Astill said.

"In the fitness center, we have all different types of entertainment," Astill said. "We have exercise equipment and sports, but we don't have anything that really reaches out to the teenage junior high-age demographic. ... It's tough to get that age group. This is a way to try to reach out to them and involve them in something they may be interested in. We are a family fitness center, so we like to include the whole family."


E-mail: [email protected]