FREMONT — Video dodge ball doesn’t leave red welts, but the kids in the Fremont YMCA’s new gaming room still work up a healthy sweat playing it.
Exergame Fitness products were utilized at the Fremont YMCA which opened up a state-of-the-art interactive gaming room called the Underground, and kids are clamoring for their turn on $80,000 worth of video equipment that it contains.
All of the games in the room require substantial physical exertion.
Jerry Renne, YMCA president and CEO, said he almost feels like he is “tricking the kids into exercising” while they play.
“Our goal was to combine their love of games and TV with developing a healthy lifestyle,” Renne said. “With childhood obesity rates climbing, we have to find new ways to keep kids active.”
Nationally, one in three children is considered overweight or obese. Experts have said they fear that for the first time in the history of the United States, children are on track to be less healthy and have a shorter life span than their parents.
Nebraska ranks 31st in the nation in the percentage of overweight or obese children, according to a 2007 study by the National Survey of Children’s Health. Nearly one-third of the state’s children age 10 to 17 are either overweight or obese.
And Nebraska is only 6 percentage points behind Arkansas, the state with the second-highest percentage of overweight or obese children.
Iowa is No. 8 nationally (1 is best), with 26.5% of kids being overweight or obese.
Renne said plans for the Underground began two years ago, long before the Exergaming company exhibited a full-scale video-exercise room called the Vault at the 2010 YMCA national convention in July.
Jessica Wylie, a spokeswoman for YMCA of the USA in Chicago, said interactive gaming rooms are popping up at Ys around the country.
“We’ve seen more and more Ys across the country open interactive gaming rooms. More than 600 Ys nationwide are helping kids have fun while being more physically active by combining entertainment with exercise through activities and games such as the Wii and Dance Dance Revolution,” Wylie said.
The Underground, which opened Sept. 27, fills a space formerly occupied by a weight room. That was moved to a new addition in the 200,000-square foot Fremont YMCA complex.
Renne said the gaming room was financed by private donations from the Marie and Marv Bartling Estate, the Hazel R. Keene Advisory Fund and Mike and Lin Simmonds of Omaha.
The Underground includes a LightSpace Play Floor, GameBikes, Tony Hawk exerboards, Xavix Game Systems and the BluFit Multiplayer with Dance Dance Revolution. The Xavix Game System lets the player choose from several sports such as baseball, bowling, bass fishing, tennis and golf.
The LightSpace Play Floor, which cost $22,995, is a favorite. It includes a dodge ball game where the object is to not step on a red ball zooming around the floor. If the floor detects a misstep, the ball turns green and the player is eliminated.
The gaming area adjoins a computer lab and a lounge area where board games can be played or members can just relax.
Dylan Fuchs, 10, and his brother Nathan Fuchs, 6, are “Nintendo experts” who now also get their kicks on the Fremont Y’s new LightSpace Play Floor.
“I really like the dodge ball game,” Dylan said. “It really gets me sweaty.”
Their father, Chad Fuchs of Fremont, said he’s “pretty thrilled” by any video games that get his boys moving.
“They are huge Nintendo game fans, so sometimes its hard to get them active,” he said. “To actually see them up and jumping around is great.”
Brooke Fenske, 15, was among 15 students consulted by the committee that planned the Underground. The Fremont High sophomore said she is hearing “lots and lots” of positive feedback about the gaming room.
“I think the GameBikes are pretty cool because it really helps your cardio workout,” Brooke said. “Anytime you develop a funner way to exercise, kids really like it.”
GameBike is an exercise bicycle with a steering mechanism that allows the rider to navigate the terrain of a game shown on a video screen. The faster participants pedal, the more steering skills they have and the better they score.
Brooke said the students suggested painting the 20,000-square foot space in a graffiti motif. Fremont artist Anthony Brown, 20, spray-painted the walls with cartoon characters in a mix of vibrant colors. He said he tried to create “something fun” for the kids to enjoy.
“It was nice to have input like the graffiti walls,” Brooke said. “The adults (on the committee) really listened to the things we had to say, and I think it makes the room more like a place kids want to hang out.”
Linda Butkus, a spokeswoman for the Omaha YMCA, said that organization does not have anything comparable to the Underground. She acknowledged being “a little jealous” of the Fremont Y’s new gaming room.
The Fremont Y, she noted, is the second-largest YMCA in the United States and boasts over 10,000 members.
“In Omaha, we have some (Nintendo) Wii systems that the kids seem to really support, but nothing like Fremont has come up with,” Butkus said. “It sounds like Fremont has discovered another medium to get kids off the street and into a safe environment.”
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