By: Veronica Nevarez
Educator and CrossFit guru, Bobby Macias, is doing for El Paso’s Ross Middle School what many of today’s parents have only longed for in their children’s schools. A Humanities teacher for the school’s ‘Gifted and Talented’ program who also teaches a college-credit course in Public Speaking, Macias developed the El Paso Independent School District’s (EPISD) and frankly, our city’s first-ever, middle school crossfit-style program that he’s, cleverly, coined ‘RossFit.’ An Austin High School graduate and former basketball coach for the school, EPISD is no stranger to Macias, yet the program he’s launched is purely innovative. As Head Coach of RossFit since its inception in 2009, this teacher and innovator has witnessed a complete transformation in his students that goes beyond measure. A 2003 UTEP graduate with a BS in Management, education has always been at the forefront of Macias’ long-term goals, but the importance of fitness was more still a personal one: “When I graduated from college, I wasn’t really caring about my health. I was working [in insurance] and had an inactive lifestyle. I didn’t focus on my health … just focused on my work.” That’s when Macias was approached by a past Austin High School basketball coach, Ronnie Paulk, about considering the Texas Alternative Certification Program (ACP) for a teaching license as the gateway into education and coaching basketball. Hetook the advice and in 2005 began coaching at Austin High while also teaching English at Ross Middle. Although coaching allowed Macias the physical outlet lacking at his former desk job, it still wasn’t enough. After he and his wife, Yvette Macias, were married, he realized how little time they were spending because of their busy schedules, and all the while neglecting his health. Add to that, the compounded experience of dealing with his father’s health issues stemming from kidney failure and complications from diabetes. Witnessing his father’s heart-wrenching ordeal, the importance of striking the delicate balance between diet and lifestyle catapulted Macias into making changes. He explains, “A big part of it was that I saw my dad’s health dwindle. I wanted to avoid this and of course, my wife and I enjoyed the time together.” That inner catalyst led to the couple’s discovery of CrossFit, a fairly newat-the-time strength and conditioning fitness program founded by Greg Glassman and Lauran Janai in 2000. And the rest is history! After a newfound passion for everything fitness, Macias began to take note and observe how the diverse mix of kids at his school were unnecessarily suffering from obesity and a sheer lack of self-esteem, being bullied and picked on, some from simply being new to the school and not having enough friends. Some students are from numerous nearby military families whose parents are deployed sometimes 12 months at a time, their fathers usually missed and gone. He’s also had students who’ve been directly impacted from the infamous violence in Juárez and simply need refuge. Many of these children are from the San Juan neighborhood, a notoriously low socioeconomic neighborhood in El Paso. Macias adds, “You hear these stories and it breaks your heart” and explains that unless students are playing sports – camaraderie, purpose, and belonging are simply out of the equation. He also knew well what most of today’s parents know best: Children are staring at screens and gaming more often than they’re playing outside. That’s when Macias decided it was time to take action. Borrowing from the CrossFit principles he’d mastered, he took $30 in PVC piping and “whatever equipment he could find lying around” or on Craigslist, and with only five boys and girls on-board, launched the one of a kind RossFit program. Today, ‘Ross Field’ is the official site for the fully functioning crossfit-style pullup rig placed prominently at the front of the school. Students of all grade levels can si gn up and are informed that they’re, in fact, part of a sport. They learn crossfit-style fundamentals with an emphasis on nutrition and lifestyle, and are benchmarked daily through varied workouts tailored to their individual fitness levels. Students keep journals to track workouts, feelings, time elapsed and tasks completed because, as Macias explains, “We chase performance, not aesthetics” adding humorously, “We don’t have them curling in front of mirrors.” In reality, his dream to start a program to help kids has solidified into a measurable body of evidence that proves it works. With so many success stories to share, Macias proudly tells of one student, Brandon Black, who started as a lineman on the Ross football field and through dedication and hard work, became RossFit’s ‘Most Improved Beast,’ successfully placing 2nd in the 200-meter dash amongst 18 middle schools at EPISD’s track competition last March. As for those students once lacking confidence and selfesteem, Macias has watched these kids now “walking with their heads higher” and says, “I saw the biggest bullies in school become the biggest motivators. Kids were getting better grades, not acting up in class. They know they have to stay eligible and do better in school.” In a nutshell, RossFit has “translated to the classroom” and the results are astounding. Students now boast 97% attendance, which he attributes to their desire to be present to achieve their daily workouts, while students who’d been academically challenged also now earn A’s and B’s, similar to their ‘Gifted and Talented’ counterparts. What’s more, these students are now boasting “69% commended scores, meaning STARR results are over 90 or better.” Not surprisingly and highly indicative of the overall tremendous benefits of the program, Ross Middle also recently placed 2nd in our city’s University Interscholastic League (UIL) academic competition. More importantly, Macias is proud that “RossFit is not a business” but rather an outlet, where kids of all walks and grade levels can fully utilize the program at zero cost, unlike other area programs commonly found at local gyms for this age group. As he points out, these programs “shouldn’t be available to only the most privileged. If there’s a way they can have access to a safe place to work out, at least we can do that.” In fact, this is where Macias graciously credits supporters of the program who were instrumental in the development of RossFit. Area Ross Department stores generously gave a $2,500 donation to help build a portion of the rig, and the Army Youth Program in Your Neighborhood (AYPYN) graciously donated $1K in funding and have since taken the model program to Washington, D.C. The vision for RossFit: A citywide implementation of the groundbreaking fitness program at each and every school. As Macias astutely asserts, “Habits are built when kids are young. My vision is to have these in every campus to enhance or even replace Physical Education. I think we’ll be the first city in the world that’ll have it in their school system and ingrained at a very young age. Fitness is the most important subject we can learn and we focus so little on it. If we don’t take care of our health, then the other subjects don’t matter.” What’s next for Ross Middle’s honorary 2015-2016 “Teacher of The Year?” Besides continuing to tackle the prevalence of childhood obesity, diabetes, and a stagnant lifestyle attributed to the overuse and bombardment of electronics and gaming devices, Macias hopes for support from Glassman himself. Having personally written the CrossFit founder a poignant letter about launching RossFit, Macias makes it clear that he asks only for the founder’s ‘platform and amazing amount of influence to help us do just that. To help bring programs like RossFit to more schools.’ Growing exponentially to 100 plus students last year, Macias is proving that through his commitment to making kids healthy, he’s positively impacting their lives in ways they might not otherwise imagine. Some of his students have already gone on to be Division-1 athletes and he believes that athletic scholarships will be the norm for many of them very soon. At a minimum, these are kids who are learning valuable life lessons in teamwork, work ethic, character and honor, and of course, the vital and immeasurable importance of leading a healthy and active lifestyle. The bottom line: Macias is truly helping shape the landscape of our youth and the city as a whole, potentially changing the lifestyle habits of a generation to come and heroically getting kids RossFit!