PUSHING THROUGH: Central Falls-inspired Pushup Challenge has proven to be a hit with high schools and MLB players like Chris Iannetta

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St. Raphael Academy alum and 14-year MLB veteran catcher Chris Iannetta joined the Pushup Challenge that was organized by members of the Central Falls High School athletic department. Via Twitter, Iannetta challenged Los Angeles star Mike Trout after performing the required 10 pushups.

CENTRAL FALLS — What started out as the brainchild of three members of the high school’s athletic department wasted little time gaining serious traction around the state and beyond.

If you’re a social media maven, no doubt you’ve heard of the pushup challenge that was originally intended as a fit-and-fun activity for Central Falls students and faculty members.

The fuse that was lit to combat the stay-safe-and-sequestered coronavirus blues took place last Wednesday when C.F. girls basketball head coach Nick Lafreniere filmed a video in the Warriors’ gymnasium (with assistance from football head coach Jeff Lapierre) where the challenge gauntlet was thrown down.

“How are we going to get these guys off the couch?” stated Lafreniere, who looks the part of a drill instructor due to his shaved head.

Via the CFHS Athletics Twitter account that’s overseen by athletic director Anthony Ficocelli –the handle is @Fic27 – the rules of engagement were clearly spelled out. Record a video where you perform 10 pushups. Then through Twitter, tag five friends. Keep the pushup train moving along.

“The intention was to get [the C.F. kids’] minds off this whole quarantine thing. Nick, Jeff and myself are all physical education teachers. We’re trying to tie it into something along those lines,” said Ficocelli. “Everyone is starting to get a little cabin fever. We were looking for something that would be silly where everyone could have a good time.”

With plenty of support expressed by the C.F. community, Ficocelli felt the next appropriate step would be to see if the pushup challenge could catch fire elsewhere.  

“Once we put the video up on Twitter and Facebook … kaboom. It exploded and went crazy,” said Ficocelli. “I started calling out people left and right. Let’s see how far this can go.”

How crazy of an explosion has it been? As of Sunday, the Central Falls-organized Pushup Challenge has been reciprocated by 19 R.I. high schools. C.F. Mayor James Diossa and St. Raphael alum (and 14-year Major League Baseball veteran) Chris Iannetta have also jumped into the act.

The response has been so overwhelming that Ficocelli admits he’s starting to hear the ding notification sound – signifying the newest addition to pushup challenge video collection –in his sleep.

“My second job has become putting up all these videos,” he said before explaining the nuts and bolts of video dissemination. “They’ll send the videos through me. One goes on a main feed and one goes on a thread. It’s almost like the videos go up twice.”   

Westerly was the first high school to jump on the pushup bandwagon and has since been joined by East Greenwich, Lincoln, Cumberland, Burrillville, Mount Hope, Mount St. Charles, Blackstone Valley Prep, Rogers, North Kingstown, Johnston, Prout and Chariho.

On Sunday, Ficocelli gladly reported that video correspondences were received from Tolman, North Smithfield, Scituate, St. Patrick, North Providence and St. Raphael.

The video sent to Ficocelli on behalf of the R.I. Interscholastic League yielded a response from someone based in Arkansas. Cumberland-based Upper Deck Baseball Academy helped the pushup challenge branch out even further. Over the weekend, several sports writers were asked to jump onboard on behalf of the Newport Daily News.

To date, the greatest coup has been Ficocelli’s ability to lure in Iannetta, who thus far has been the most recognizable person associated with the pushup challenge.

“I texted Chris and asked if he wouldn’t mind doing it. It took him a few days but it popped up [on Saturday],” said Ficocelli.

Iannetta kept his end of the challenge bargain by nominating five former and current MLB teammates of his.

The most recognizable name belonged to Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout, who Iannetta played with from 2012-15. Also tagged were two members from the New York Yankees – infielder D.J. LeMahieu and pitcher Chad Bettis – along with Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story and Hank Conger, who played with Iannetta in Los Angeles.

“They’ve yet to join in, but I thought what Chris did was pretty cool,” said Ficocelli.   

There will come a point when the buzz surrounding the pushup fad runs its course. Once that happens, expect Central Falls to spearhead a new athletic-themed challenge.

“People have been asking what’s next,” said Ficocelli.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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