A Fitness Crusade

Hard work pays off: Father Judge students (from left) Brian Kennedy, Kevin Hawe, Joe Marinucci, Steven Pangburn, Bob Midiri, Jim Sauer and Justin Cherkis take advantage of the Mitchell Center’s weight room after school.

When Jimmy Lynch landed the job as Father Judge’s athletic director last summer, he said there would be much more to the position than just overseeing the school’s sports teams.

Take one walk through the Mitchell Center on campus after school, and it’s clear the energetic 27-year-old Lynch has put his money where his mouth is.

“When I got here, I re-worded the way I wanted the athletic department to be seen, so I refer to myself as the Director of Athletics and Wellness,” Lynch explained on a recent Friday afternoon tour inside the Mitchell Center. “For me, it’s not just athletics. Yes, I want our sports teams to succeed, but I also want to offer opportunities that would tailor to the entire student body. There’s so many opportunities to partake in when you open up a center like this after school.”

If you walked through the center (school board member Bill Mitchell donated the money to open it back in 2007) after school before Lynch got hired, odds are you’d find only Judge athletes utilizing the building’s weight room or gymnasium. Now, seven years later, it’s a completely different scene, due to the Patrick S. McGonigal Center for Fitness and Wellness, an initiative Lynch has launched to open the gym to the school’s entire student body of about 1,000 kids.

On this day, the gym was buzzing. A partition divided the room in two, half full of crew team members training on rowing machines, the other half with Judge students playing pickup basketball. In the adjacent room, athletes and nonathletes alike were lifting weights and running on treadmills side-by-side. In addition to open gym hours every day after school until 5 p.m., Lynch has opened up the center three mornings a week from 6 until 7:30.

“I grew up in a big family playing sports, and they teach you discipline, work ethic, problem solving, how to relate to one another,” Lynch said. “And the fitness and wellness aspect teaches you how to take care of your body and eat the right things. It’s a lifelong experience you can learn from.”

Lynch has a graduate degree in sport management from Neumann University, but his interest in fitness and wellness began while he was an undergrad at Saint Joseph’s, where he held a work study job in the campus’ athletic and recreation departments. Now, he’s started a college internship program at Judge, where part-time and full-time interns from schools like Neumann and Temple are in the Mitchell Center every day, offering the proper instruction on fitness and wellness techniques. The school has hosted seminars on concussion/traumatic brain injury awareness and college recruiting, and Lynch said he has more planned, including one on drug and alcohol awareness prior to Senior Week.

Lynch stated that Judge’s top-notch athletic facilities resemble those on a college campus, which is exactly what he wants his initiative to emulate. His vision goes beyond just one year, too, with plans in place to continue evolving and revitalizing the school’s intramural program. If a student has an idea to start a new team or physical activity, the door to Lynch’s office (located conveniently inside the Mitchell Center) is always open.

One of the initiative’s components he is most excited about is the “Iron Crusader Competition,” the instructions of which are posted on a wall inside the Mitchell Center’s weight room. Lynch has chosen 10 events with a specific goal attached: for example, parts of the competition include a two-mile run in 12 minutes; a 300-meter sprint in 43 seconds; 10 minutes of continuous jumping rope; bench pressing 150 percent of the individual’s body weight; and squatting 200 percent, to name a few. Of the 10, students have 30 days to complete eight; if they fail, they must wait 60 days before trying again, and there will be no more than three attempts in one calendar year. There are no names on the wall yet, but he hopes that will change soon. The point, Lynch said, is to help young people set fitness goals for themselves to achieve.

“We have all these facilities, and we want to capitalize on the resources we have,” he said. “It’s great to see kids have an interest in taking care of their bodies. The Iron Crusader Competition gives them something to work toward. The program I started here, I’m hoping it can become a model for high schools across the city. If you put a focus on fitness and wellness as a whole, that’s going to translate to more success academically and athletically. If you participate in daily rigorous activity, it stimulates the brain. There are so many different pieces to the puzzle, but the bottom line is it needs to be a focus.”

Lynch expressed happiness over the three Judge teams (soccer, bowling, wrestling) that have won Catholic League titles in his first year on the job, but most of his satisfaction is derived from so many non-athletes also partaking in the opportunities he’s placed at their feet.

He is aware kids are most susceptible to at-risk behavior in the hours between school ending and dinnertime, and hopes more will want to use some sort of fitness and wellness endeavor as an outlet for offsetting any temptation.

“I came in with a vision, and this is just phase one,” Lynch said. “Once you get them in here, it’s easy to transition into other areas. Next year, I want to build up the intramurals where we have indoor soccer, 3-on-3 basketball, maybe a Judge triathlon, things like that. And it’s more than just a vision … I have a passion for this.

“A lot of the research I’ve done has been in the decline in urban athletics. The whole mindset has gotten away from cities across America. My goal is to bring everyone together and provide more opportunities for kids. Starting a program like this is step one, but it has to be duplicated, expanded. The Iron Crusader Competition, I’d like to see other schools do it to the point where it could become a city-wide club.”

Much has changed at Judge in Lynch’s first year on the job, a lot of it for the better. When he got the position last summer, he vowed to be in it “for the long haul.” His new initiative seems to back that up.

“If you can make fitness and wellness fun, they’re going to want to do it for the rest of their lives,” he said. “The whole mission of this center, this program, is to open it to everyone. We aren’t going to force anyone to come in, but I want to make sure those opportunities are available to everyone. It’s to help promote healthy alternatives.

“It’s nice to see the kids here taking advantage of it and appreciating it. I want kids everywhere to have this. That’s something we can keep pushing for.” ••

Man with a plan: First-year Father Judge athletic director Jimmy Lynch has started the Patrick S. McGonigal Center for Fitness and Wellness Initiative in which the school’s fitness facilities are open to the entire student body, not just athletes. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS