By MICHELLE BROOKS
RUSSELLVILLE - What had been a dingy room with a few pieces of out-dated machines is now a bright and clean room with modern equipment.
Cole County R-1 High School has more than 25 students enrolled in a body conditioning class this semester, taught by Tim Wenkel.
Most of those students are not involved in competitive athletics. But they are benefiting all the same from the improvements to the weight room through community donations and the booster club.
The new equipment, installed last school year, makes workouts easier and more accessible, whether its the class or off-season teams after school.
"The power rack system allows athletes to use multiple exercises on one piece of machinery," said athletic director Lucas Branson.
Most booster club purchases are spread around to individual team sports.
"This benefits every team," Branson said. "Everybody sees the need for our athletes to be on the same competitive level."
The weight room is another example of the culture change within the Russellville school, said principal Heath Waters.
A fresh coat of paint, with features provided by the art classes, was the finishing touch.
Now students and athletes are taking pride in their facilities and accepting individual challenges of success.
In the body conditioning classes, Wenkel has established school records for different feats and weight classes.
At the end of September, Wenkel sat down with each student to work out their personal short-term and long-term goals. Most of the students already have met their short-term goals, he said.
"Most of the time, they're pushing and encouraging one another," Wenkel said.
Sophomore Chris Wolfe was proud of completing seven pull-ups recently, up from his original three in September.
And Senior Johnathan Thomas hopes he can increase his bench press weight by three pounds before he graduates.
Adding body conditioning to his class schedule was a decision to become more physically fit, Thomas said.
Once in the class, he discovered he enjoys the personal challenge.
"I feel stronger," Thomas said. "And I have more confidence."
The class focuses more on anaerobic activities. They start with static stretches and a dynamic warm-up.
And they always end with stretching.
"You've gotta stretch or you could get hurt," Wolfe said.
For Wenkel, this is his ninth year in the classroom, but first at Russellville.
"For our size school, this equipment is exceptional," Wenkel said. "And the facilities in general are good.
"We've got everything we need."
So, at the beginning of the school year, Wenkel set them up with the basic tools they would need to be successful, such as safety tips and proper form.
What Wenkel has been equally impressed with is the student respect.
"The administration expects a lot out of them," he said.
Weight-lifting is a lifetime skill.
Several of the body conditioning students have joined a gym or bought equipment for home, too, Wenkel said.
In semesters to come, Wenkel hopes to see the body conditioning classes grow in popularity. As students become more skilled, he has more workouts which could be added, such as the Olympic-style power cling.
For athletes, body conditioning helps with strength, flexibility and injury prevention, Wenkel said.
"Athletes today are stronger than athletes 20 years ago," he said. "I think that's due to weight lifting."