LEWISTON — In gym class Wednesday, students teamed up to do strength training. One student exercised, the other student watched to assess.

“Who’s the coach?” physical education teacher Dan Gish asked of Brie Dube, 15, and Nigel Katende, 14.

Katende raised his hand.

Doing a goblet squat, Dube held a weight near her heart, bent her knees and squatted.

“Keep your back straight,” Katende coached.

Students often team up, Gish said, because they learn better when they observe and teach, and it builds confidence.

For many going to the gym is intimidating, Gish said. When Lewiston High students complete their phys ed classes, his goal is they’ll be comfortable in a gym.

“We do not let it become intimidating in here,” he said. “We focus on what you can do, not what the person next to you can do.”

Early in his career Gish, 46, taught exercise classes to nursing home residents on oxygen tanks or in wheelchairs. In 2000, he began teaching and coaching in Lewiston. He is the department head and an assistant coach for the varsity soccer team.

On Nov. 5, Gish was named by his peers the Secondary School Physical Education Teacher of the Year. The award was given at the Maine Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance conference in Rockport. 

Anne Printup of the Poland Community School was named Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year by the same organization.

Lewiston Assistant Superintendent Shawn Chabot said Gish never looks for praise but is an outstanding educator, “and more importantly, the kind of human you want your child to be around.”

Soccer player Dido Lumu said he recently lost his father, as did Gish. Gish understands students, Lumu said. “He’s great person. He likes working hard and pushes me at times. I like that. He really deserves what he won.”

Gish said he is thankful for the honor and was quick to praise others.

“The kids are the focus. For physical education, we are at the top of our game here,” he said. “But I didn’t do this alone.”

Lewiston High’s 1,400-plus students are required to take two gym classes to graduate: The Foundation of Fitness and Fitness for Life.

The two semesters equal a full year of gym. That is not enough, Gish said. He would like to see students take phys ed every year.

“Maybe in the future,” he said.

When anyone exercises, “it wakes up your central nervous system. I guarantee that a kid will be a better problem-solver after a gym class. I know when I work out in the morning, I think so much clearer.”

Many students take more than the required two classes, enrolling in advanced physical education and sports medicine.

“I have to turn kids away,” he said. “We’re pretty full.”

Gym classes can be the typical games in the gym — on Wednesday students played volleyball — or students working on personalized training goal in the basement fitness center, which has seven squat racks and 20 cardio equipment, including bikes, ellipticals and treadmills.

Every student learns how to exercise, how to use the equipment, what each kind of exercise does for the body and nutrition.

“We explain what different things do, like drinking enough water prevents headaches,” Gish said.

He tells his students he used to teach exercise classes at the Lakewood Manor in Waterville.

As they get old, they do not need to win 5K races or be the best in games, but they need to stay active.

“I tell them they have a choice,” Gish said. “Do you want to be the spunky one at age 85? Or the one who doesn’t want to do much?’

He added: “Everyone is an athlete in their own way. Can you walk? You’re an athlete.”

If a student hates exercising, Gish said it is his job as a teacher to individualize something that will help him or her for life.

“And we try to make it fun,” he said.

Dan Gish, center, coaches Nigel Katende, right, on how to teach a goblet squat to Brie Dube. Peer teaching is part of the Lewiston High School athletics curriculum. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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