Rhododendron Girls State gets fit with W.Va. Guard

WHEELING – Members of the 119th Engineering Co. of the West Virginia National Guard hosted the first physical fitness “field day” Tuesday for high school females attending Rhododendron Girls State this week at Wheeling Jesuit University.

Girls State residents had the opportunity to warm up with calisthenics and participate in a military-style workout on the track outside the McDonough Center.

This week, the young women are learning about elections and politics and preparing their own campaigns for office at Girls State. The field day followed voting in primary elections there Tuesday.

“I needed some physical activity,” said Miriam Flatley of Wheeling Park High School. “It’s a release from some of the stress and energy we’ve had this week.”

Rontina McCann, an adult staff member at Girls State, said representatives of the 119th based in Moundsville contacted Rhododendron Girls State last year to ask if they could provide any assistance during the camp. In 2012, Guard members did a presentation on Flag Day but indicated they wanted to be more involved, she said.

Girls State organizers told them there was a need for more exercise and recreation for the Girls State citizens, and the 119th offered to provide a program.

“It’s great to expose these girls to the National Guard both as a way to serve, and also as a way to honor and respect those who do serve,” McCann said. “It came out of need. So many of our girls are into fitness, and they run on the track in the mornings. This is another way to meet the need and do physical activities.”

Sgt. 1st Class Bill Wilson, a member of the recruiting and retention battalion of the West Virginia Army National Guard, said the Guard is always “wanting to do things to help out in our communities.”

He said after warming up with calisthenics, the young women would “do the things we do in the field,” including carry field packs and water cans. A typical field pack weighs about 40 pounds, but those being used by the girls were reduced to half weight, Wilson added. Also, the water cans were filled only about one-third full.

“I needed the exercise and a workout,” said Karen Laska of WPHS. “We’ve had a lot of indoor activity this week, and it’s good to be outside.”

Her WPHS classmate, Alex Buch, agreed they all had “been inside a lot” since arriving at Girls State.

“It’s sunny again now, and it’s nice to do some exercise,” she said.

Natalie Marquart, also a WPHS student, said she already has a fitness routine she wants to maintain.

“I’m in a summer gym class,” she noted. “I don’t want to slack off now.”

About 400 high school girls from throughout West Virginia are attending Rhododendron Girls State, which started Sunday evening and continues through Friday morning on the Wheeling Jesuit campus.