When Stephen Vaughn’s dad died just a few years ago, it helped put life into perspective for the former physical education teacher.
Vaughn grew up in a faith-based home filled with guidance and support from his parents, who encouraged Vaughn to chase his dreams. But after losing his dad in 2006, he felt a sense of emptiness like never before. Working as a teacher at Wingate Elementary School, Vaughn saw day in and day out a void missing in many of his male students at the school – something he was missing, as well. Where were the dreams, the drive and the push to succeed? Something was missing in education, and Vaughn set out to find it. That’s why he created Xcel 2 Fitness, a non-profit fitness and character-building extracurricular program for boys in third through fifth grade that has reached nearly 1,100 students throughout south Charlotte and parts of Union County.
Reflecting on his own recent loss, Vaughn set out to develop a fitness curriculum for his students that would promote teamwork, sportsmanship and goal setting and would encourage young boys to chase their dreams without limitations. Little did Vaughn know, he was chasing his own dream, too.
“Pretty much what I noticed in my classroom was when (the students) came in, if I could get them to smile, I could get them to participate. If I could get them to participate, they start improving. With improvement, it starts sparking a passion. The passion changes their lives and sets them on track to chase their dreams,” Vaughn
While the Xcel 2 Fitness curriculum was formed out of Vaughn’s classroom at Wingate, he officially launched the after-school six-week, 12-session program at Providence Spring Elementary School in south Charlotte in 2011. He never thought his passion would shift from coaching high school basketball to helping elementary students, but it’s a welcomed change, he said. His real passion, unlike when he started his teaching career, was molding and shaping young boys to one day become successful young men, just like his dad had done for him.
“My dad taught me to be the best I could be. He just taught me to love people, love God and do what I do,” Vaughn said. While his dad was very busy as a pastor, many times he was absent from sports games and other activities in Vaughn’s life. “But I still felt his guidance, and when he was gone, I missed that guidance.”
Now, two years after the launch of Xcel 2 Fitness, Vaughn runs his nonprofit full time, and is expecting more than 30 schools to register for the spring program, including some schools in south Charlotte. And the program is growing, now with chapters in Virginia, Arkansas and Ontario,
Xcel 2 Fitness consists of a Girls on the Run-type format, with two coaches and about 20 team members, but the program does not focus on one specific activity. Vaughn said he created the program to expose students to many types of activities in hopes they’ll develop their own passions. Xcel 2 Fitness focuses on speed, strength, agility, balance and cardio, as well as character education. After the six-week program is complete, teams from different schools compete against each other to conquer a challenge course. Each individual contributes to their team’s effort. Last semester’s event was held at Indian Trail Elementary School in Union County with more than 500 boys in attendance.
“I knew this had potential because I saw the void there. For some reason, I always knew it would reach the masses. I felt like it was my calling – I thought this was my job to really carry this out. When I lost my father, I realized more than ever leadership in a boy’s life – leadership and direction – was all so important.”
The next season of Xcel 2 Fitness starts in about two weeks. Interested schools that would like to participate should visit the organization’s website, www.xcel2fitness.