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Coach Marian Hanen (left) addresses Polish Falcon team preparing for a meet in July.

Polish Falcons: A Cure for Couch Potato Kids

THE music starts and 15 children line up in formation. They bend, they stretch, they raise their arms in motions that seem a cross between a march and a dance. They are grouped on mats that cover the floor of the Polish Falcons Hall. On another mat-covered area, three little girls get a welcoming hug from their instructor and then take turns skipping across the mat. A few parents sit and watch or chat on the benches along the wall. And so begins a typical session of the Tuesday afternoon fitness program at 801 East Clarke Street. This is a program that has a long history in our neighborhood, dating back to the community of Polish immigrants who settled here in the 19th century. Like the Germans who established turnvereins like Turners’ Hall on 4th Street, the Riverwest Poles organized a local “nest” of Polish Falcons in 1916 to emphasize physical fitness, discipline and fellowship. With national headquarters in Pittsburgh, Polish Falcons are a fraternal group that offers life insurance to its members. They also support centers like the one in our neighborhood. Marian Hansen is the mother-hen of the local nest. Born on Weil Street, Marian has been working with neighborhood kids since 1969. Originally she organized a drum and baton corps at St. Casimir’s and then went on to develop a remarkable number of programs for kids at the Polish Falcon nest: gymnastics, swimming, bowling, track, baseball, folk dancing, you name it. In the “canteen” behind the stage, a small room that bulges with costumes and trophies, Marian points proudly to walls full of honor certificates earned by Riverwest teams over the past 35 years. Five times the Riverwest Polish Falcons have been named national folkdance champions, she boasts. Four times the group has even performed in Poland. Every year they perform at Polishfest. Clearly, Hansen is proud of the history of the Falcons program. And she sees how times have changed. “Kids used to be outside playing hopscotch, jump-rope or kick-the-can. You never see that anymore. Now they sit watching TV like couch potatoes, eating potato chips, which is even worse. We have way too many overweight children nowadays. Kids need to get exercise, they need to be doing things!” Danyel Brost is a young mom who grew up in the neighborhood and looks back fondly on her years with the Polish Falcons. “It was great for me,” she says. “I made a lot of friends that I still keep in touch with. We got to be like a family. They kept us occupied so we stayed out of trouble and we got to do a lot of traveling when we went to different competitions.” Danyel has such appreciation for the program, in fact, that she enrolled her son Floyd in the local nest. The cost is only $40/ year and that includes a life insurance policy worth $10,000, weekly classes and two-thirds of any expenses involved in traveling to different tournaments. Danyel thinks it was great that her son got to go to Michigan this summer for a competition. As a single mother, she’s a strong supporter of the Falcons: she loves that the program is so inexpensive and right in the neighborhood. “This program is a jewel which many people are not aware of.” That’s what Marian Hansen has to say about the Polish Falcons. She invites parents to come by at 6 pm on Tuesdays and see for themselves. “There’s nothing else like this in Riverwest. Where else could parents find a program like this at such a reasonable price and so close to home?”

You can reach the Polish Falcons at 562-5640.