Armed with jump-ropes and hockey sticks, students at Holbrook Elementary School in Concord hopped and swung their way to a $1,000 state fitness award.

The Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports named Holbrook the 2007 Bay Area Region School of the Year in a ceremony Wednesday.

Council executive director Kenny Rogers praised the Concord school's all-encompassing fitness program, which includes lunchtime hockey, after-school basketball and walking programs during the day and after school.

"Of all the schools in the Bay Area, they came out No. 1," Rogers said.

Winning the award wasn't a slam dunk.

The campus had tied with Stone Valley Middle School in Alamo, Rancho Las Positas in Livermore, Charter School of Morgan Hill, and Walnut Heights and St. Mary elementary schools in Walnut Creek for top honors.

All students who signed up for the Governor's Challenge at these schools met the goal of 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity at least three times a week outside of regular P.E.

Holbrook edged out the competition with its nutrition classes and vegetable patch. Even in the chill of November, red stalks of chard push up out of the earth and green pea tendrils climb nets hung from a trellis.

"We were very impressed with the garden you're growing," Rogers told the students.

The nonprofit council led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former body builder, encourages youths to get up and move. According to the state public health department, a third of California children are overweight or obese.


Frightened by the statistics and concerned for their students, staff members at Holbrook decided to make fitness and health a priority. Teachers formed a noontime sports league and started walking with students during recess.

Leanne Nelms planted the school garden last fall and struck up a 100-Mile Club, the goal being for each child to log 100 miles of walking by Christmas. On a normal day, the club marches a mile by circling the field four times. On Fridays, they often take off to a local park -- a four-mile roundtrip.

Third-grader Jeffrey Luttrell said he initially joined the walking club for the commemorative T-shirt. But two months and 65 miles later, the 8-year-old says he's reaped other benefits, like stamina.

"I think it's easier to go hiking," said Luttrell, who scrambled up Castle Rock with his dad and a friend last weekend. "I walked three miles and didn't get tired at all."

In spring, Luttrell and the entire school will take a break from their strolls to whip out the jump-ropes for an annual American Heart Association fundraiser.

"We practice for a month, and then we jump our little hearts out," said Karen Ruthnick, a teacher and after-school coordinator.

It was Louella Giron, a yard supervisor and after-school nutrition teacher, who entered Holbrook in the fitness contest.

"We all need to get up and exercise," Giron said.

Nobody knows better than Giron's 9-year-old son Tommy, who was diagnosed as borderline diabetic this year. Doctors said he needed to lose weight.

So Tommy joined the hockey team and walking club. On other days, he hits the basketball court with friends. For someone who's lost nearly 20 pounds, Tommy's gained a lot -- an appreciation for healthy living.

"Just running around, having fun, playing the game," he said, "I feel like it's really fun."

Shirley Dang covers education. Reach her at 925-977-8418 or