The research article discusses the findings from work the team has done at White River Valley Middle School (WRV) on how children in rural areas from low socioeconomic backgrounds face unique physical activity contextual challenges. Andrew Medellin—co-author of the study, public health graduate student, and the Hoosier Sport "data guy"—said he noticed and was surprised the students did not have the sufficient equipment to play sports during their regular physical education classes.
"Many students just wear boots or sandals, and they’ll just take them off and play pickleball or soccer with us inside in their socks, but that can make it tough for them to fully participate," says Medellin. "This is one example of an opportunity we'd like to improve, and the best way to do that is by getting to know and listening to the community."
This is the second article that recent SPH-B graduate Sarah Greeven has co-authored in Frontiers sharing the important findings about this community health intervention program. Greeven earned a master of public health last December and has been instrumental in making Hoosier Sport a reality, intimately working with faculty project leaders Kyle Kercher, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology; Cassandra (Cassie) Coble, Ph.D., clinical associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology, and Vanessa Martinez Kercher, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health & Wellness Design.
A place for everyone to be involved
While the program formally launched in May 2023 thanks to a Indiana Department of Health SNAP-Ed grant of $47,163, Greeven says work on the program started more than a year ago when Greeven and Paola A. Fernández Solá, article co-author and fellow graduate student, established a relationship with the school and began writing a grant proposal.
"Hoosier Sport was a great opportunity for me to go into an unknown area and be very uncomfortable and be okay with that," says Greeven. "I learned skills that will be invaluable to me for the workforce, like asking questions, owning up to making mistakes, and knowing that I am not going to be perfect every time."
Greeven shares they have had a very positive experience working with Frontiers; getting timely feedback from their review team that has helped both Greeven and Medellin hone their research writing abilities and co-create data charts and graphics. Greeven says she has also learned many practical skills through her mentorship with Dr. Kyle Kercher, such as grant writing, team leadership, and active collaboration.
"The more work you put in, the more work you get out, and that is very true with Hoosier Sport," says Greeven. "I can't thank Dr. Kyle Kercher enough for giving me this experience."
The beauty of Hoosier Sport is the many ways students can be involved, despite busy schedules and academic responsibilities. For instance, Solá is often unable to come to WRV for workshop days due to her demanding schedule as a high-level track and field athlete, but she is still intimately involved in team meetings and multiple research article contributions.
Getting to know the community
Dr. Kyle Kercher says a crucial part of the needs assessment was taking time to get to know the school, students, teachers, parents, and community members; conducting surveys about sports, nutrition, physical activity, policy, and the environment. Kercher notes when they first arrived at WRV in May 2023 they noticed much of the playground equipment—including basketball hoops, playground equipment, and sports balls—were "pretty run down."
"It is great to go there and build on their resources. For instance, "we taught pickleball to the kids in a really fun 4-week unit and that was many of their first times playing the sport," he adds. "The kids in the school have so many strengths—we learn so much from them as well so it is mutually beneficial and directly in line with the Indiana University strategic plan (IUB 2030) aiming to provide high impact experiences for students."
Dr. Kyle Kercher shares there is strong enthusiasm and "good energy around" Hoosier Sport within the middle school community, with students actively wearing their Hoosier Sport t-shirts and regularly coming down to the gym for soccer and pickleball. According to some feedback from the students, pickleball has been overwhelmingly popular and a new sport to many of them. Isaiah, age 12, says the college students involved in Hoosier Sport are the first ones he's ever met.
"You guys teach us new things," says Isaiah. "I feel good because we're exercising, and I'm ready for sports [practice after school]."
Medellin hopes to continue to work with Drs. Kyle and Vanessa (Martinez) Kercher this spring to be a crucial presence in the school, attending events from games to band recitals, showing that Hoosier Sport is seriously invested in the community.
"We want to be there to hear what's going on and to build relationships," says Medellin. "It doesn't have to be sports-based, just having a conversation with community members and learning about what these kids want to achieve."
For more stories about SPH-B students and faculty making a big difference both locally and worldwide, visit go.iu.edu/48bx.