Oak Harbor High School strength and conditioning coach Colby Heefner recognized a problem and did some heavy lifting to help solve it.
Heefner created the nonprofit organization Whidbey AthlEATS Foundation to help meet the nutritional needs of his athletes.
Heefner also recruiting brothers Taeson and Dorian Hardin, Oak Harbor High School graduates and football players at College of Idaho, to help with the project after the pair indicated they were looking for a way to give back to the community.
Heefner, who works at OHHS through a contract with his employer, IRG Physical and Hand Therapy, recognized that his athletes were not consuming enough food to perform their best in athletics.
The pandemic has exasperated the problem of proper nutrition, according to Heefner. The rise in unemployment has added stress and caused a lack of proper nutrition, that in turn has hindered the progress of athletes attempting to build strength.
“Lifting weights and conditioning is only half of the battle in being successful in sport,” Heefner said. “At the high school level, I feel that nutrition is often overlooked as a way to help progress the athlete in their development in sport and in life.”
He hopes the project will provide meals the athletes can consistently count on.
“Some kids are bouncing around from home to home and don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Heefner said. “I just want to provide them with a meal.”
Heefner is securing funds for the program through donations, fundraising and apparel sales. He has also dug into his own pocket.
Heefner contacted Gatorade, and the company is going to supply a refrigerator to be placed in Oak Harbor High School. Heefner will fill it with Gatorade, protein bars and sakes, prepackaged snacks and sandwiches.
Oak Harbor High School’s facilities are closed until mid-October, so Heefner is currently feeding students out of a cooler when they meet for conditioning at local parks.
“The kids love it (the program),” he said. “They look forward to the food.”
He noted that the number of athletes taking part in the conditioning program this summer is larger than last year, and he attributes the up-tick in part to AthlEATS.
“Food is a great motivator for teenagers,” he said.
While the primary goal is for athletes to receive proper nutrition, it also helps them maximize their return when working with Heefner in his conditioning program.
Heefner said last year’s sophomore-ladened football team, for example, was physically inferior to its opponents.
“Now we are getting stronger,” he said. “I felt our athletes didn’t have enough calories; protein helps them get stronger and they need extra calories in their day.”
The Hardins are helping Heefner sell the program to the community, advertising its needs to Whidbey Island.
“The community seems to like the idea,” Heefner said. “We have gotten nothing but positive feedback.”