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Georgia Southern alumnus, P.E. teacher challenges students to be active, healthy during quarantine

Tendai Haggins with Georgia Southern Health
and Physical Education Lecturer Kellie Penix, Ed.D.

At 16 years old, Tendai Haggins (’93) lost his 36-year-old mother, who had long put her health issues to the side as she took care of her family.  

From then on, health and physical fitness became a integral part of Haggins’ life in Portal, Georgia, a small town located in northwest Bulloch County. In high school, he played any sport he could, including baseball, basketball, football and track. 

“It not only kept me in good shape, it kept me busy and out of trouble,” said Haggins. “I had so much energy and always wanted to be busy.”

Initially, Haggins didn’t consider going to college. However, his teachers and coaches challenged him to think otherwise. 

He watched them in their jobs, noting that they had fun and got paid to do it. Haggins thought, “I can do that.”

After applying for and earning numerous college scholarships, Haggins chose Georgia Southern University to pursue a degree in health and physical education. 

“I was at home at Georgia Southern,” he said.

Haggins walked onto the University’s baseball team where he played one season before stepping down to focus on grades and finances for college. When he successfully completed his teaching degree, Haggins returned to Portal to do what he always wanted to do -— teach and inspire kids to be healthy and reach their fitness goals.

“I love seeing these kids doing something they never thought they could do,” said Haggins. “I want them to believe in themselves.”

For students who don’t want to tackle sports and fitness, Haggins encourages them to be active by participating in class.

“I workout with them, play with them,” he said. “They keep me young.”

Haggins also works with students on their personal goals.

“If it’s about losing weight or gaining muscle or just living a more healthy lifestyle, we work on that together,” said Haggins. 

Since schools across the country have moved to virtual platforms for the remainder of the K-12 school year, Haggins said it is more important than ever to keep students engaged, active and thinking about nutrition. 

“I post challenges for them, and I am still getting calls and texts from students about their fitness goals,” he said. “I have explained to them that 30 minutes a day will make a big difference, and I am encouraging them to challenge their family members to do the exercises with them. When we return to school, we will be accountable for this time. We have to keep our goals in mind and keep working toward them.”

Haggins also encourages students to keep a food journal. Looking at the research and science of food, they log how they are feeling, correlating their energy levels and emotions with the food they eat.

“It’s easier if you can make a family commitment,” said Haggins. “Cook healthier meals and take walks together, especially during this time. I had a mom approach me in the grocery store who jokingly told me that she now has to get in shape because of me. Her daughter wants her to complete the challenges with her. That’s what it is all about.”

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 institution founded in 1906, offers 141 degree programs serving more than 26,000 students through nine colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit


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