NEOSHO, Mo. — The bonding and teamwork between students of Goodman Elementary and Neosho Middle schools in the wake of a tornado made an impression that will result in a new fitness center.

Neosho Middle School was announced Tuesday as one of three Missouri schools to receive $100,000 in equipment for a new Don't Quit fitness center. The award is from the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils.

"The things they did with Goodman," said Jake Steinfeld, chairman of the foundation. "They took those other kids in. ... The faculty is incredible, with their willingness, excitement and belief that academics and fitness go hand in hand."

Already at capacity, the middle school made room for about 300 Goodman students in 2017 after that school was destroyed by a tornado. Principal Charity Williams said the district was able to rearrange and combine classrooms so that Goodman students could have a wing to themselves.

But she still saw how students of different age groups interacted.

"Some of our students don't have younger siblings," Williams said. "So to see them embrace those kindergartners and first-graders and show empathy to them, that brought out a lot from our kids."

With Goodman Elementary projected to reopen this fall, the middle school now finds itself with plenty of room for the fitness center.

It will feature workout equipment made by TuffStuff Fitness International — enough to accommodate more than 30 users at a time, Williams said. Two classrooms in the building, located at 1400 Hale McGinty Drive, have been combined for the incoming center.

In addition to classroom use, it will be available before and after school hours for teachers to use, Williams said.

Since 2006, the program has provided similar fitness centers for schools in 32 states. Schools in Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Rhode Island were chosen for centers this year.

The foundation's Don't Quit campaign targets elementary and middle schools instead of high schools, said Steinfeld, an actor and fitness expert who created the "Body By Jake" series in the '80s. That age was important to him and his development, he said, because of a gift his father gave him.

"I was an overweight kid with a bad stutter, but when my dad gave me weights when I was 13, they changed my life," Steinfeld said. "When you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything, and weights did that for me. I always thought that if, at some point in my life I could give back, this is what I'd want to do."

The program works with states selected based on their governors' commitment to education and fitness. Steinfeld said Gov. Mike Parson fit the bill perfectly. More than 450 submissions across the state were considered by the foundation, which chose five finalists for them. Parson's office made the final three selections, which included Premier Charter School in St. Louis and West County Middle School in Park Hills.

The centers are funded by a public-private partnership including Coca-Cola, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Wheels Up and Nike. TuffStuff is based in Chino, California.

The center at Neosho Middle School is projected to open in late September after a ribbon-cutting ceremony that will be more like a pep rally, Steinfeld said.

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.

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