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Set to give the boot to childhood obesity; Soccer for Success in after-school lineup at 10 of city's schools

Soccer moms, get ready.

Roughly 1,000 students in 10 Buffalo public elementary schools this fall will be able to participate in an after-school, sports-based youth development program that uses athletics as a tool to combat childhood obesity and provides nutrition education and mentorship to children living in at-risk communities.

Soccer for Success has been up and running since 2010 in other cities. Now it's expanding to Buffalo.

"[Soccer for Success] has a proven track record of positive outcomes in other areas of the country and will be one more viable tool we can use to help combat the rise of childhood obesity in Western New York," said Dr. Michael W. Cropp, president and CEO of Independent Health.

The program is made possible because of a $300,000 grant for this year's Social Innovation Fund Sub-Grant from the U.S. Soccer Foundation. Independent Health Foundation was among the organizations in 13 cities nationwide -- and the only one in New York State -- to win the grant.

Leaders from the Independent Health Foundation announced the initiative Wednesday at School 54, the Dr. George E. Blackman School of Excellence, 2358 Main St. Students there showed off soccer drills they will do as part of the Soccer for Success program, which will be integrated into Independent Health Foundation's Fitness for Kids Challenge.

The aim of Fitness for Kids -- a health and wellness initiative offered to elementary school-age children throughout Western New York -- is to end the increasing trend of Type 2 diabetes and obesity in youth by encouraging them to engage in fitness activities and to make healthy food choices.

"Integrating the Soccer for Success program into our already successful Fitness for Kids Challenge affords us the opportunity to impact more students with the hope they will learn health fitness and nutrition habits for life, which will translate into a healthier community," Cropp said.

In addition to the Dr. George E. Blackman School of Excellence, other participating schools include Hillery Park Elementary, Community School of Academic Excellence, Highgate Heights, Build Academy, Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute, Frank A. Sedita Academy, Southside Elementary, Enterprise Charter School and Westminster Community Charter School.

Professional soccer player and Amherst native Kendell McFayden joined officials from Independent Health for the announcement, along with partner organizations United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, Buffalo Soccer Club and Mayor Byron W. Brown.

"By adding the sport of soccer to the Independent Health Foundation's Fitness for Kids Challenge, the U.S. Soccer Foundation is helping to further improve the health of Buffalo children," Brown said.

The Buffalo Soccer Club will oversee programming aspects of the grant within the schools. United Way will measure and evaluate the program and provide volunteer staffing.