Editor's note: This story is from our Healthy Life special section, inserted inside today's Perham Focus and Wadena Pioneer-Journal newspapers.

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Some kids are naturally drawn to sports, gravitating toward fields, arenas and gymnasiums like bees to pollen.

Others aren't as interested, preferring to hang out at the back of their gym classes and stay out of the games.

Kids like those, who just don't find their footing in conventional sports, have traditionally had a harder time learning and developing healthy habits than their more athletic counterparts. But the Perham Public School District has been working to change this.

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"We want our students to have a well-rounded experience," said Erin Anderson, the district's Activities Director. "We operate under a guise that all our students come in with different gifts and abilities… Some students might be really good at traditional sports. Other students might not be as gifted in that area; and we want to have opportunities for all those gifts."

Perham schools have been offering more and more alternative competitive activities alongside of the usual array of traditional sports. Activities like speech and robotics have been popular in recent years, and the district's new fishing team has been reeling in young anglers at a rapid pace. The latest activity, esports, or competitive video gaming, will be introduced to the school district soon.

A kid participating in esports stands outside, holding a controller as he plays in a virtual reality system. (Submitted by Fenworks / Brenden Swanson)
A kid participating in esports stands outside, holding a controller as he plays in a virtual reality system. (Submitted by Fenworks / Brenden Swanson)

Even though people often associate health and wellness with getting outside and being physical, Anderson said there is much more to it than that.

"When you talk about being healthy, you talk about a whole wide range of what that means," he explained. "Nowadays, you hear a lot about physical and mental health."

Anderson believes it's important for students to take some time for themselves each day. Limiting their mental and physical stress, and not overbooking their schedules, isn't always as simple to do as it may sound, and yet is incredibly important. He emphasized how much young minds need a good amount of proper rest each night.

"We have students that are heavily involved in activities, and their schedule is so jam-packed that sometimes it's hard for them to take time for themselves," he said. "Time with family and loved ones is a healthy thing. Be aware of boundaries in your own schedule."

The Perham Jacket Fishing Team were the 2021 Heart O’Lakes Fishing League Champions at Little Pine Lake. (Submitted by Perham Jacket Fishing Team)
The Perham Jacket Fishing Team were the 2021 Heart O’Lakes Fishing League Champions at Little Pine Lake. (Submitted by Perham Jacket Fishing Team)

At the same time, getting outside and being active are still two major aspects of keeping a healthy lifestyle. In Perham's physical education classes, kids learn about healthy activities, both within and outside of sports, that they can maintain for a lifetime. They learn ways to be physically active and fit that aren't necessarily as demanding as running cross country, per se.

For example, students participating in esports from home are taught lessons encouraging them to be active in many different ways, such as going for a walk. They're taught that, no matter what activity they're in, physical wellness can impact their performance in a positive way.

"A student may be a better speech competitor if they're taking care of their self, body and mind," Anderson said. "If they get some exercise, they may do even better on the speech team. We need to be encouraging overall healthy lifestyle patterns."

A student holds a controller, participating in his school's esports. (Submitted by Fenworks / Brenden Swanson)
A student holds a controller, participating in his school's esports. (Submitted by Fenworks / Brenden Swanson)

The Perham Jacket Fishing Team, which Anderson said has really taken off over the last few years, has made many students throughout the Perham area passionate about fishing. It encourages kids to get outside and provides those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to fish the chance to get involved with what may become a lifelong interest. It also allows students to connect with one another -- also an important aspect of living a healthy life.

Then there are esports, competitive video games. When parents think of video games, a healthy life is often the last thing to come to their minds. But kids who take part in esports are given tips to maintain a healthy life in a physical sense, and also learn about computer programming, hardware systems, mental health, social skills and leadership.

Anderson encourages parents to help kids get involved in one — if not multiple — activities. Sometimes, it may take several tries to find a good fit, but parents should help their kids keep trying if the first few don't work out. Every kid has their gift and niche; it's just a matter of finding it.

"For our students, it's important to show them (ways to be healthy) in their formative years, so it's not something they need to relearn themselves in a reactive fashion," Anderson said. "All of a sudden, someone may realize, 'Something is wrong because I haven't been physically fit or watched over my mental health.' If you lead a healthy, balanced life, it just becomes a piece of their fabric before they enter the real world."

The Perham Jacket Fishing Team have their own uniforms. (Submitted by Perham Jacket Fishing Team)
The Perham Jacket Fishing Team have their own uniforms. (Submitted by Perham Jacket Fishing Team)

For those who aren't in their formative years anymore, Anderson has some advice: There are activities adults can get involved with, too. He made multiple suggestions for things adults can do to help stay healthy -- join a civic club like Rotary, the Scouts, take a community education class, volunteer at a church, and more. Just start attending different meetings and see what clicks.

"Don't be afraid to get out and try something," he said. "I learned that from watching students who want to be involved, and try to remember that. We can take that wisdom from watching our own kids and students. Maintain effort, and get involved with the community."