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Building Strength from the Inside

Strongman Team Challenges Students to Help Others


Eighth-grader Gavin Spicer gave the challenge 100 percent and that is what mattered.

Gavin was chosen by his classmates when Mike Benson, team captain of The Conquerors strongman team, asked for the strongest person in the room to take center stage.

Despite cheers from those watching and advice from Benson, Gavin couldn’t bend the u-shaped metal into the shape of an “s” in the 10 seconds that he was given.

“Gavin wasn’t able to bend this horseshoe, but he did demonstrate something far more important,” Benson told the students in a recent assembly. “We do this all the time and often with much larger men giving it a try. Many of them feel the difficulty and don’t give it the whole 10 count. Gavin gave 100 percent for the whole count. He has the attitude of a champion.”

Mike Benson gives message

Cedar Springs middle schoolers had gathered for one of several inspirational meetings, this one featuring The Conquerors — a team of “strong men” who perform feats of strength in order to share their messages with young people.

“The idea is to inspire, to motivate, and to add perspective to the school’s values,” said Benson.
“The message is different in different schools, but for this one we want the kids to understand it is possible to overcome hardships. And sometimes some hear it better from a different or outside voice.”

Cedar Springs Middle School students have an assembly about once a month to help them find ways to overcome personal challenges, said Principal Sue Spahr.

Earlier this year a dance company from New York, the JLine Dance Crew, came with a similar message.

“One of the dancers had had a serious accident and was told she would never dance again, but she persevered until she was back on stage,” Spahr said. “These are great messages for our kids. They all need to know they are not alone in their challenges.”

Inside, Not Outside

Benson bent the horseshoe that Gavin couldn’t budge, and folded a frying pan into the shape of a taco. Another team member, Yago Williams, broke a Louisville slugger baseball bat behind his back and blew up a hot water bottle until it broke.

The Conquerors wowed the students with such feats. But, like the JLine Dance Crew, the message was what mattered most. Team members shared stories from own lives to pump up enthusiasm for conquering personal challenges.

‘They all need to know they are not alone in their challenges.’ — Principal Sue Spahr

The reason they take so much time for school presentations instead of joining strong man challenges is simple, The Conquerors say: It is more important to build strength inside than on the outside.

They spoke candidly about personal challenges for young people, such as brokenness, sadness and even violence in their homes and issues that they might have with fellow students.

“You have no clue what others are going through,” said Benson, sharing a time of depression in his life. “If it weren’t for those speaking life into me, I wouldn’t have got through it.”

“When the students go through hardships, they often think they are alone,” said Spahr. “Some live with a severe addict in the home and others with the fear of eviction. It affects them every minute of every day. They may worry about getting home to help or having to change schools.”

Having the students learn to reach out to listen to and help others was one goals. Another — and equally important — is to learn when and how to reach out to others when they are going through something hard, Spahr said.

The school aims to help every student find a way to make a positive difference in the world.

“Knowing that they can make a difference … gives them a sense of pride and they feel better about life in general,” said Spahr.

Eighth-graders Drew Mattson, left, and Kyle Jarosch watch in anticipation

Getting It

The presentation prompted thoughts from students afterward.

“Often we think only about what is going on with us,” said eighth-grader Allie Yakes. “When I see people alone, I usually don’t think to see what’s going on with them.”

Drew Maddison, also in eighth grade, came up with a practical idea. “If I see someone sitting by himself at lunch, I am thinking now I might go over there,” he said. “I think this opened my eyes to something that I hadn’t looked at before.”

Following the assembly, teachers spent the last minutes of their class periods asking students how they could help others. Students were also asked to fill out forms with ideas for making their world a better place.

Ideas ranged from small changes that might only affect one other person, to group projects and possible whole school or community-wide initiatives, according to Spahr.

When The Conquerors return in May, students plan to share with them the things they have done and are doing to change the world and people around them — for the better.

Mike Benson, a member of the Conquerors team, watches as eighth-grader Gavin Spicer tries to bend a horseshoe

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.

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