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For too many kids, the after-school hours are spent parked in front of a television or computer. But in places like a nondescript strip mall in Cherry Hill, N.J., a countermovement--with emphasis on the word movement--is afoot. At 4 p.m. on a recent Wednesday the brightly lit, 21,000-square-foot space is bustling with youth in motion.
In one area six high school lacrosse players cheer one another through dumbbell squats. Behind them a pack of middle schoolers, representing both sexes and four sports, are running timed sprints on a 65-yard rubberized track. Across the way a placekicker who's headed to the Naval Academy next fall deep-lunges his way across a 40-yard AstroTurf field. Through the windows of an adjacent waiting room parents sip complimentary coffee and watch contentedly.
Welcome to Velocity Sports Performance, a fast-growing national chain of workout facilities where kids from aspiring T-ballers to Olympic-caliber collegians are getting faster, stronger and more agile. (And in lesser numbers, so are adults--from women wanting to lose postpregnancy pounds to NFL players looking to gain a step.) For $25 to $30 an hour Velocity's clients are led through a variety of running, jumping and lifting drills by certified trainers, all of whom have been schooled in Velocity's core principle: At the basis of all sports are certain fundamental movements. Sharpen those, and performance--and by extension, confidence and even happiness--will improve.
It was two decades ago when Loren Seagrave, Velocity's 53-year-old founder, first scribbled those ideas on a scrap of paper. Although he was a technique guru who would tutor some of the world's top sprinters and hurdlers, including Olympic champions Donovan Bailey and Gwen Torrence, Seagrave longed to return to his roots in basic phys ed, in which he earned a degree at Wisconsin. "Not only was obesity running rampant, but I also was seeing more and more athletes [specializing too much] and losing out on the important mechanics that a mix of sports teaches you," he says. "I thought it was time to get back to honest phys ed--not rec play, not ball play, not weight training. Teaching."
Seagrave opened the first Velocity facility in Marietta, Ga., in 1999, and his state-of-the-art equipment and emphasis on developing quickness attracted immediate interest from area kids, a few pro athletes and, most important, a pair of businessmen acquaintances. David Walmsley, a former director of consumer products at the A&E TV network, signed on as CEO, and Richard Kissane, a former executive with Sylvan Learning Center, the tutoring and test preparation company, became COO. In six years Velocity has opened 51 branches with more than 120 on the way.
Velocity's success is largely due to young participants and their parents spreading the word. "I truly believe it gives kids a competitive edge," says Dianne DaTorre, whose 13-year-old son, Danny, a football player, works out at the Cherry Hill facility three times a week. "More than that, kids sit around too much these days. This improves health and wellness all around."
Even if that promise of improved health and athleticism doesn't sell a typical kid on Velocity, the chain's rising cool factor might. "At first I assumed this place was for people who were struggling in their sport," says lacrosse player Jen Ingalls, who persuaded her teammates to train for the coming season at Velocity. "But then I came here to rehab a torn ACL and saw that pro and college athletes came here, too. Now everyone talks about 'meeting up at Velocity.' It's kind of the place to be." Certainly better than the couch.