NFL center Connor McGovern visits Grand Forks South Middle School for 'Able in School' pilot event

Program provides physical education courses pairing special needs and able-bodied students

032123 ABLEgames3.jpg
New York Jets center and Fargo native Connor McGovern signs footballs for participants in Monday's ABLE games at South Middle School.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks South Middle School hosted a pilot event for “Able in School,” a physical education curriculum designed to improve outcomes for students with special needs.

Able in School is an offshoot of TNT Gymnastics and Fitness, a Fargo-based gymnasium providing children with mental and physical disabilities with a tailored environment to fit their needs. According to TNT’s website, it has provided an inclusive environment to improve the physical and emotional health of students in grades K-12 since its founding in 2006.

Fargo native Connor McGovern, center on the New York Jets and Able’s founder, said Able takes the mission of TNT and delivers it directly to schools, rather than having students travel to Able’s Fargo gymnasium.

“This curriculum is working on getting into schools, because it’s a lot more cost effective to have teachers trained on this system than bussing students to TNT,” McGovern said. “This way, the students get to do this every day or every other day depending on their school’s schedule.”

McGovern said Able in School will also work to address the growing rates of childhood obesity.


“It’s an outlet for people with special needs to get physical activity,” McGovern said. “Obesity is a severe problem in all populations, but it's definitely an epidemic in the special needs world.”

McGovern also founded the Able Games, an inclusive functional fitness competition featuring children of all ages.

Jennifer Hewitt, left, high-fives Tryphosa Hoffman during the ABLE games at South Middle School in Grand Forks Monday.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Kim Pladson, president and CEO at TNT, said Able in School is the direct result of Able Games’ success in the region.

“A special education director in our area reached out and said, ‘this is so impactful, do you think you could create a physical education curriculum and implement it into public schools,’” said Pladson. “We saw the brand of what Able could do, saw Connor’s vision, and said ‘I think we can take the Able Games and make it into a physical education program where for baseline students to pair up with children with special needs. We’re beyond grateful for what he’s doing.’”

Pladson said Able in School is especially beneficial for rural schools that may only have a few special needs students. Additionally, she said it serves as a vocational training program.

“We have vocational fitness programs in grades 6-12, and we want to help these children get jobs and become part of the community,” Pladson said. “Their peers will start seeing ability, because they will be employees or employers either working or selecting to work with people of all abilities. That’s where the systemic change is. North Dakota has thousands of job openings, and a lot of them could be filled by this population that may be overlooked.”

McGovern said the potential for expanding Able in School across Grand Forks Schools is strong. He says the district will first examine the pilot’s result at South Middle School.

“The district’s goal is to have their specialists see how much of a better mood their students are in, how much better they work in class after having that human interaction and physical activity and work from there,” he said. “The reception today was very positive.”


032123 ABLEgames1.jpg
Hunter Stegman participates in the ABLE games with organizer Ashley Nelson Monday at South Middle School in Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
What To Read Next
Get Local