It wasn't the challenge of karate chopping a plank in two for the first time in her life that had 12-year-old Kali Johnson trembling. Rather, it was being closely surrounded by about 30 of her classmates who were chanting, with arms raised, "Kali, Kali, Kali.""
Putting aside any faintheartedness she felt, the Rim Country Middle School student confidently cocked her arm and let fly with a blow that shattered the board.
Those watching cut loose with a rousing roar of approval.
Johnson, armed with a new-found aura of boldness, said, "I know now that if you try real hard you can do most anything. That was great."
The demonstration, hosted by licensed martial arts teacher Ken Aoilla, was part of RCMS's second annual "Power Day" held March 9.
During the day, 15 guest speakers from around the country spoke to rotating groups of middle school students about empowering themselves to make positive decisions.
The program has its roots with teacher Jennie White who said she got the idea after listening to nationally recognized motivational speaker Leon Quan at a Character Counts conference two years ago.
"I thought he was the type of person who the students would listen and learn from," she said. "Then we just added even more (guest speakers) to make the day even better."
Quan opened the school day with a 45-minute presentation in which he talked about the lessons he had learned in life and encouraged the students to make good choices in what they do.
Most of the morning, and at closing ceremonies in the afternoon, Quan electrified the audience with his humor and poignant insight.
Quan, who had produced four inspirational CDs, hosted radio shows and produced rock concerts, travels the country visiting school campuses and making guest appearances at leadership conferences.
Quan's challenges and passionate delivery impressed students, teachers and RCMS principal Monica Nitzsche.
"The students really listened. They wanted to hear what he had to say," she said. "He's amazing."
Following Quan's presentation, the students were funneled through the workshops held around the campus.
Gila County Narcotics Task Force officers Tony McDaniel and Jimmy Oestmann, gave a presentation on the effects of drug abuse. Following it, the two answered a barrage of questions from the curious teens.
School resource officer Les Barr and his K-9 "Kodiak" thrilled the groups with a demonstration of how the dog can sniff out illegal drugs even when they are well hidden.
In Wilson dome, Gila County Sheriff's Deputy Dennis Newman put his bomb-sniffing K-9 "Rusty" through his well-trained paces.
Students also participated in a question and answer session with Payson High School student body president Patrick Walker.
Nitzsche, in her first year as principal of the middle school, deemed the day a complete success, saying it was well received by the students and the slate of presenters did an exceptional job in teaching good character skills.
White agreed. "Character building like this needs to go on almost everywhere. I think the students learned a lot from the day."
White also issued a huge thank-you to the sponsors who stepped forward to help fund the event.
They included Shelley Randall at Intermountain West, the Tonto Apache Tribe, Safeway, Bruce Haught at Jack in the Box, Lori Pfarr and Cucino Paradiso.