Diabetes Forecast

Arizona Teachers' Rivalry Boosts School Walk for Diabetes

By Jeff Sistrunk ,

To friends Jason Wall and Anton Pratt, everything is a contest, whether it's a game of darts or 18 holes of golf. Now the Arizona middle school teachers are putting their competitive natures to work for the American Diabetes Association's School Walk for Diabetes.

Wall, 37, and Pratt, 48, began working together in 2003 as instructors in physical education and health at Western Sky Middle School in Phoenix. "Our rivalry started between our two PE classes," Wall says. "We had an event called the Great Popsicle Relay, which was a 4 x 100 [meter] relay race. The losing class served Popsicles to the winners."

Two years later, when Wall moved to Verrado Middle School, their teams started competing in basketball and volleyball. "Anytime I coach against Anton, it's a highlight," Wall says.

Early in their friendship, Pratt learned that Wall has type 1 diabetes; he was diagnosed eight years ago. It was Pratt who first got his school involved in School Walk for Diabetes, in 2006. "I thought about Jason's [diabetes]," he says, "and did the research and saw that there had been an 800 percent increase in diabetes cases just among kids in our district. That's when I knew that I wanted to do [School Walk]."

Wall followed suit last year, organizing Verrado's first School Walk. The success of the Western Sky event—which in its first year was tops in the nation among middle schools in money raised—has helped shape the Verrado walk. Ever the competitor, Wall looks at Pratt's latest fund-raising total before setting his School Walk goal. This academic year, Western Sky's event will be November 19 and Verrado's will follow in February 2010.

Both teachers create incentives for their students to raise more money to fight diabetes. At Verrado last spring, any student who raised $100 could select a teacher to serve him or her lunch for a day. And for every $50 raised, students earned raffle tickets for a chance to win a Nintendo Wii, donated by Wall.

Pratt has had a few tricks of his own. In a promotion dubbed "Twenty Together," he agreed in 2007 to do 20 push-ups for every $20 raised by a student; this translated to 4,680 push-ups in three days. And for the past two years, the top six fund-raisers in each grade at Western Sky were rewarded with a limo ride to the movie theater.

Anne Dennis, an ADA associate manager in Phoenix, credits Wall and Pratt with setting a great example for School Walk across the country. "They both have high energy, they're creative, and they do everything full out," she says. Last year, 1,346 schools nationwide hosted School Walk for Diabetes events, raising nearly $4.1 million.

So, who has won the rivals' School Walk competition? In 2008, the first year the two schools faced off, about 1,100 kids participated in Western Sky's walk, and some 1,300 took part in Verrado's. The top fund-raising school was Western Sky, with more than $17,000 donated. But the sum of their contributions has been the greatest victory: Since 2006, Wall's and Pratt's walks have raised a total of $71,000 for ADA.

"Even though we're competing, we're still working together," Pratt says. "Hopefully, we'll beat this thing one day."



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