FANWOOD, NJ -- The whistle sounds and 40 T-shirted young people sprint across the blacktop at the at the John H. Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains as six instructors urge them on. But these aren’t police recruits. They are middle school students who signed up for a one week program of fitness and fun created by the Fanwood Police Department. 

Get Fit With Fanwood’s Finest was the idea of Chief Richard Trigo and his administrative assistant Dianne Howarth, with the help of a $2,000 grant from the First Responders Children’s Foundation and donations from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.

“We wanted to get the kids out of the house,” said Chief Trigo. “So, we said let’s do something where we workout with the kids. I approached some of our officers assigned to the Union County Emergency Response Team about what daily workouts they go through with their training. I said I’d like to incorporate that into something for the kids. And the officers just took off with it.”

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The two hour gathering is not the rigorous, boot-camp-like routine that actually occurs at the police academy, but an informal and relaxed set of basic exercises mixed with field games, tug-of-war and relay races.

“Always give 100% - whether it's sports or anything else. If you give only 50%, people will know. You are getting better each day. Do your best, keep trying,” Officer Elliott Bernard, one of the instructors, told pariticpants after the session's conclusion on Wednesday. “I love being here with you guys. I'm coming here even though I'm off tomorrow. I'll think about this until we're back again tomorrow.” 

Officer Kathy Case took the girls aside and gave them words of encouragement.

"I said not to get discouraged if the boys beat them. Stay strong and keep trying," Officer Case, Fanwood's only female officer told TAPintoSPF. "There weren't many female recruits when I was in the academy, but I was able to make it through."

"It's no different from coaching football," said Officer Tim Green, a high school and college star and PAL coach. "It's all about motivating, building self-esteem and making sure they do things the right way so they don't get hurt. We want them to come back."

The Fanwood Police Department's "Get Fit with Fanwood's Finest" program concluded on Friday, Aug. 30, with a brief concluding ceremony.

The program was offered its to Fanwood and Scotch Plains students in grades 5 through 8 and waws funded by  the First Responders Children’s Foundation, which supports, promotes and facilitates educational activities whose purpose is to benefit children or the community.

"I love doing stuff with the kids. They give us so much effort," Officer Dan Kranz said. "It's a shame they don't get outside more. With these 40 kids, we can change their way of life. I never had something like this growing up." is Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s only free daily paper. Sign up for our daily eNews and follow us on Facebook and twitter @SPF_TAP. Download the free TAPinto App for iPhone or Android.