LAKEWOOD RANCH -- After a grueling 35 laps around McNeal Elementary School's field, red-faced, and sweaty 7-year-old Jessie Cantrell took her final victory lap Thursday with her dad, Jeff Cantrell.
It was the culmination of a nine-day character- and fitness-building program that also served as a school fundraiser.
"We learned about listening and being healthy," Jessie said.
The school's first Boosterthon Fun Run helped raise money PTO officials say will go toward building a small track for the school runner's club, which has about 115 members. Boosterthon, a 12-year-old company based in Atlanta with a branch in Tampa, has worked with 60 schools the past three years. McNeal is the first Manatee County school to participate.
"I posed it to the board," said Monica Thomas, McNeal PTO president. The Thomas family used to live in Jacksonville, and her family's school there used the program, she said.
"It's more than a fundraiser," Thomas said. "It's a character program and a fitness program."
Nine days ago, representatives from Boosterthon held a kick-off pep rally at the school. Since then, representatives have been in
the classroom daily, teaching students about the values of fitness and different character traits.
"Our hope is not just to come in, raise money and get out," said Palmer Trice, program director for Boosterthon in Tampa. "We wanted the opportunity to promote fitness and character."
After the program is over, students run and sponsors donate money based on how many laps are completed.
Each student wore a white T-shirt. Volunteers marked the back of the shirt as each student completed a lap.
The event featured a variety of fun laps, including a "Frozen" themed-lap, where the popular song "Let It Go" played, an America lap where a Boosterthon representative ran a circuit while waving an American flag and a slow-motion lap where students were encouraged to slow down and catch their breath but keep moving.
Pledges stay open for a week. Most Boosterthon Fun Runs raise between $20,000 and $25,000 for the participating school, Trice said.
"It may be a two-year process to raise the funds," Thomas said.
Jeff Cantrell said the Boosterthon program was invigorating. He said his daughter, Jessie, and her friends practiced all week and were excited about the event.
"I don't think we teach enough fitness anymore," he said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.