High School Affiliate Celebrates 10 Years, Helps Spread CrossFit to 52 Other Las Vegas Schools
Ten years ago, PE teacher Michelle Morrison approached the administrators at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, NV, and convinced them to let her run a CrossFit class for students in the ninth to twelfth grades.
With their blessing, Morrison opened Rancho CrossFit, a non-profit affiliate that would operate in the school’s then rundown, “old school weight room,” said Morrison, a teacher of 17 years.
“I’ll never forget that first day. They had no idea what they were getting into,” Morrison said about the 30 boys who signed up to be part of her inaugural CrossFit class.
Today, Morrison, a member of Iron Talon CrossFit in Las Vegas, offers eight CrossFit classes to 250 equal parts male and female students at Rancho High School, an inner city Title 1 school, as well as an after school CrossFit club.
This means that for the last 10 years, Morrison has been rewarded by witnessing students get their first pull-up, push-up, or muscle-up, students who stop drinking soda and lose weight, and students who tell her how much more energy they have, how much better they’re sleeping, or how much better they feel about themselves. Nothing could be more rewarding for a teacher, she said.
The Journey to 2021
When Rancho CrossFit first opened, Morrison was only granted access to the school’s weight room during times it wasn’t already being used, and the equipment in the room made teaching CrossFit extra challenging.
There was no rig, no squat racks, no bumper plates, let alone kettlebells, boxes, medicine balls or rowing machines, Morrison explained. “We had an old school squat rack and leg press machines,” she said, and not a whole lot more.
But as interest in her CrossFit classes quickly grew, the school made room in their budget for some new equipment, so Morrison, who also led additional fundraising efforts, was able to start upgrading the facility. By the end of the program’s first year, they got their first rig, as well as some boxes and medicine balls.
“Two or three years ago, we finally got enough rowing machines to use them effectively in a class of 30 to 40 students…We officially have 10,” said Morrison, adding that they pretty much have a fully-equipped CrossFit gym now.
A few years in, as Morrison expanded the number of classes she offered, it became obvious that she needed to find a second teacher and CrossFit coach. As luck would have it, another member of her gym was a PE teacher, so he transferred to Rancho High School and has been teaching the course with Morrison for the last three years.
Spreading Through the School District
What Morrison started a decade ago has since spread to an entire movement in the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, in large part thanks to Shannon La Neve, an administrator in the school district, who took it upon herself to have CrossFit classes and programs included in as many schools in the district as possible.
La Neve’s passion for the cause was sparked after she observed one of Morrison’s CrossFit classes at Rancho High School when she was the physical education supervisor.
“The student camaraderie that I observed during instruction, and the individual passion and dedication students exhibited, was enlightening. I wanted to replicate what I witnessed at Rancho CrossFit on a larger scale,” she said.
In 2016, La Neve told the Morning Chalk Up her goal was to have 50 schools in the district offering CrossFit classes by 2017. Today, there are 52 schools who offer CrossFit to their students, all of whom are individual CrossFit affiliates.
To fund these affiliates, and to help physical education teachers to get their L1s, L2s and CrossFit Kids certifications, La Neve and her team have used grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The success story is that 10 years later, Clark County School District has 52 schools across the district supporting our students and building a life-long love for physical activity and nutrition. Our students have taken that knowledge and have replicated it in their own homes, modelling life-long healthy habits and behaviours for their families and peers,” La Neve said, adding that building the program has been one of her biggest highlights, both personally and professionally.
“Just like a Regular CrossFit Gym”
After a decade, just like a regular CrossFit gym, there are too many success stories to count.
“We have had every type of student you could possibly imagine, from the best athletes in the school to kids who don’t even know how to jump rope,” Morrison said. “Everyday is exciting. Once the students start to understand what they’re doing and see progress, it’s all they talk about…Some kids stay in the program for all four years.”
She added: “It’s just like a regular CrossFit gym. You get deconditioned members who stick with it and see all this progress. Most of these kids show up the first day of school and they haven’t done anything in two months, and then they see a tremendous increase in their fitness and overall health.”
Also like a regular CrossFit gym, each year her students participate in the CrossFit Open, and prior to the pandemic, she also hosted Friday Night Lights and various other competitions. In the pre-pandemic world, she also used to take students to local gyms on fieldtrips to show them that they could even turn CrossFit into a professional career if they wished to become a coach. She’s hoping to be able to do that again in a post-COVID world.
Through it all, Morrison said one of the best rewards is when students reach out after they graduate and thank her for introducing them to CrossFit.
“I have kids who go off to college and four years later they reach out and thank me for everything I brought to their life from fitness, said Morrison, who knows of many students who have joined local CrossFit gyms after they graduate, and a couple who have gone on to take the L1s.
She added: “It’s usually after the fact that they reach out. They don’t always realize it when they’re in it, just how much it’s helping them….and it’s not just about the fitness and health part, it’s about the discipline they (build), too.”
Ultimately, Morrison couldn’t be more pleased with where the program is today. What started as a humble way to give students all that CrossFit had given her, has ended up changing the course of thousands of lives, something she never would have expected.
“I had no idea what was going to happen when I started it. I had no idea it was going to grow so popular so fast. It caught me a bit off guard how it kind of blew up,” she said.
“Being able to witness the positive change and progress in the students over the years has been extremely rewarding. One of my daily rewards is being able to experience the students’ efforts and the joy it gives them.”