- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Arctic Winter Games athletes are taking their game to students. Athletes from the Alaska team arrived at Woodriver Elementary School to work out with kids and talk about the importance of active play every day.

Athletes and students competed side by side in a complex obstacle course comprised of activities including hockey, basketball, gymnastics and the school’s title sport: unicycling.

The athletes came to Woodriver as part of the Play Every Day campaign. The campaign, operated by Healthy Futures and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, seeks to raise awareness about childhood obesity and encourage kids to stay active.

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“We try to have a lot of fun,” said Harlow Robinson, Healthy Futures‘ executive director. “Our message is that being physically active is fun. It doesn’t mean that you have to join a sports team. It doesn’t mean that you have to do rigorous training and run a marathon.”

Throughout the school year, students at Woodriver have been participating in Play Every Day. Students filled out forms logging their activity for a three-month period in the autumn and received prizes accordingly. The spring activity period is just beginning.

Play Every Day, which operated partnerships with 168 schools in Alaska this school year, often makes visits to its dedicated schools, and Woodriver has been one of the most active. The school has participated in the Healthy Futures Challenge nearly since it began more than 10 years ago.

“I know it’s something our kids spend a lot of time doing,” Principal Grant Guy said. “It definitely relates to success in the classroom.”

The program Wednesday also served as a kickoff event for the Arctic Winter Games, which are set to take place this year in Fairbanks between March 15 and 22. In addition to the team Alaska athletes, winter games mascot Ravee the Raven attended the event and interacted with students.

Many Fairbanks-area schools will act as housing and staging locations for athletes from around the northern world when the games start. Guy said some of his staff has been involved with the games as volunteers and were excited to be able to participate in a kickoff event.

The visit should serve as a celebration of the effort of both Woodriver and its students, Harlow said.

“It’s in part to recognize some of the schools around the state that have been champions of our program,” Harlow said.

More than 15,000 students participated in Play Every Day in the fall program this school year. Since the campaign teamed up with Health and Social Services in 2011, the number of participating schools has jumped by more than 400 percent and the number of participating students has increased by more than 11 fold.

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