CrossFit Kids Moves Downtown After Lost Barrio Fire

September 5, 2012

By Teya Vitu

(CrossFit Kids, 119 E. Toole, will have fundraiser yard sale on Sept. 8. Borderlands Brewing, also at 119 E. Toole, is pledging 10 percent of its beer sales that day to CrossFit. Find out how you can help.)

Back in the day, dodge ball, capture the flag and monkey bars ruled the playground. That day has been revived at Wildcat CrossFit Kids, itself revived at 119 E. Toole Ave. following an Aug. 13 fire at its Lost Barrio gym.

Miles Bottai negotiates an obstacle course at CrossFit Kids with Kevin Nichols looking on.

Franchise owner and head coach Kevin Nichols dismisses the über-safety evolution of today’s playground.

“We let the kids take risks,” Nichols said. “Better a broken arm than a broken spirit.”

Not the words you would hear at a school playground. Nichols knows that well enough as he teaches K-8 physical education at Khalsa Montessori School, but after school, he has his own way of teaching fitness, nutrition and physical education.

“We’re giving the kids the experience to get on the monkey rings and drop 7 feet,” he said. “We’re giving them confidence. We can use our games to make them better at drawing, dancing, music.”

Lifting, carrying, jumping, climbing, rolling, throwing. That’s the mix at CrossFit Kids, an after-school indoor playground on a 30-by-75-foot indoor artificial turf soccer pitch that doubles as a playground for everything else.

“P.E. my way involves climbing,” Nichols said. “We have climbing ropes and monkey ropes. Dodge ball gets a bad rap. Under the right guidance, dodge ball is a great game. It’s a game of accuracy, not how hard you can throw it. It’s a game of patience. People with the least patience are always out first.”

Nichols is translating the tenets of fitness and nutrition to capture the imagination of children.

Wildcat CrossFit Kids owner Kevin Nichols is a kid at heart and spirit.

“The CrossFit philosophy is it needs to be fun. Kids are not miniature adults,” he said “Everything is created as a game. Instead of saying ‘All right, guys, here’s our workout,’ we say ‘All right, guys here’s our obstacle course of the day.”

The CrossFit philosophy is no different than organized sports, where the ultimate objective is more about instilling life skills than the sport itself, said Calvin Hammond, the other CrossFit Kids coach.

“They feel so much better about themselves,” Hammond said. “They are more socialized. You’re learning how to be part of a team and what role you’re supposed to play.”

Fire ended playtime for Wildcat CrossFit Kids early in the morning of Aug. 13 at its Lost Barrio gym at 130 S. Park Ave. CrossFit Kids was the victim of the huge fire that produced smoke that was visible across town and made the TV news.

One week later, Nichols had the kids playing again at the 119 E. Toole warehouse owned by Peach Properties. It didn’t hurt that Peach Properties has its office across the street from the Lost Barrio warehouses, and CrossFit kids and their parents head across the street to Tooley’s Café, a Peach property.

Nichols signed a two-year lease with a two-year option at 119 E. Toole. He occupies the open space in the warehouse that served as a dining area during the first few Food Truck Roundups.

Nichols took a $20,000 hit with the fire – “I had to take out a huge loan,” he said – but he is rebounding with a significant upgrade. CrossFit Kids now has 5,000-square feet in two rooms, twice the space he had for kids at the Lost Barrio, where he still has his CrossFit program for adults.

The new green turf also makes a world of difference over the rubber mat CrossFit Kids had at the Lost Barrio.

“We understand the wow factor goes a long way with the older kids,” Hammond said.

“The turf is really an inviting surface to play on. It just makes the kids get hyper in a good way.”

The soccer pitch has a few quirks, brick walls down the sidelines, two sets of steps onto the pitch and a small column a couple feet onto the field reminiscent of the flagpole on the warning track at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

CrossFit Kids is for children aged 5 to 14. Nichols splits the play sessions into two groups, ages 5 to 9 and 10 to 14.

The CrossFit Kids day starts at 3:30 p.m., when kids have a half hour to play however they wish. Nichols has a structured session on the turf for the younger kids from 4 to 5 p.m. and for the older kids from 5 to 6 p.m.

“We want them to learn how to run, jump, land – that’s really important, climb, swing, push, pull,” Nichols said. “You scope out the whole year so it builds and develops. We’re a long-term athletic development model. For the time we have them, we want to give them this philosophy that movement should be fun.”

“For the 5-to-9-year-olds, the class starts at 4, usually with tag or a relay race,” he said. “With the older kids, the warm up may be more of a skilled mobility class. Then we move into our focus of the day, which is always a game.”

Nichols has playground games to enliven each of the ten elements of fitness, one of which is the focus each day: Rule the circle for strength; robin’s nest for speed; bull’s eye for power; dodge ball for accuracy; capture the flag for endurance; an obstacle course for stamina; toe fencing for agility; off balance for balance; wall ball for coordination; and yoga for flexibility.

He sneaks nutrition guidance into the water breaks.

“We have a huge nutrition program,” he said. “We follow Michael Pollen’s rules. Don’t eat cereal that colors your milk. Don’t fuel your body at the same place you fuel your car.”

CrossFit Kids is open from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. Little League, football and other teams in the community can book the CrossFit Kids facilities for training other hours and days.