Approximately 650 little people sat on the green grass of Mesquite Trails Elementary School's athletic field Wednesday morning, in long neat rows, their heads swiveling back and forth as they listened to principal Dave Stewart address them through a megaphone.

"Good morning, boys and girls," Stewart said, his voice amplified and with a slight buzz added to it.

"GOOD MORNING, MR. STEWART!" more than 650 voices boomed in unison.

"I know a lot of us have been really excited about today," Stewart said. "I know I've been excited about today."

The students sat inside a wriggling concrete path, snaking a fifth of a mile around four fitness stations.

"You know, if we're going to be the best school, we deserve something nice to be running on," Stewart told his students, "We deserve something nice to be running on. We deserve a track."

The idea had come to the principal about a year before, he said later.

"We had a lot of classrooms where they were doing running clubs, like ... add up their miles as a class and try to run across the United States, and as they run across a state, they'd learn about it," Stewart said Friday. "We happened to get some grant money from the state that we could use toward physical fitness stations. So then it was 'OK, let's see if we can come up with some other money, creatively.'

"I just made phone calls begging, basically, telling them that ... physical fitness is really important. A healthy body in a healthy mind."

The calls paid off: The new fitness track was made up of $20,000 worth of donated concrete from Mitsubishi Cement and Service Rock Products.

The Mesquite Trails Parents Club covered the remainder of the expenses, including the spongy recycled tires that serve as ground cover at each of the fitness stations.

"It's a little more of a high end surfacing than [wood chips]," Stewart said. "This stuff, it's really dense. The only way it's going to get out of the air is if it's kicked out, and if it gets kicked out, we can kick it back in."

Stewart knows whereof he speaks, as a former Olympic-quality athlete until illness cost him a spot on the Canadian team in the 2004 Athens Olympics games. His training partner, Bryan Clay, won the silver medal in the decathlon that year.

It had been a big week for Mesquite Trails and Stewart: In addition to the track opening, the school was one of 570 California public schools selected as a 2007 Honor Roll School by the California Business for Education Foundation and Just for the Kids - California.

"I got to attend a special dinner," Stewart told his students, "Because of you guys and your teachers."

Stewart and the school were honored at a banquet Tuesday at the InterContinental Hotel in Century City. Also honored were 199 other top Southern California schools.

"We were the only school in Hesperia that got this award," Stewart said.

The award recognizes both academic achievement but also closing the achievement gap between subgroups of the school population.

"At this school, we're under the idea that good teaching is good teaching for all," Stewart said. "We provide every child with the support they need, whether they're an English language learner or a GATE student. ... They're getting support all day long, and that's where you make the big difference."

But finally, it was time to unleash the Mesquite Trails Eagles on their new track.

"Cut it, cut it, cut it, cut it!" the students chanted, as a surprisingly tough purple ribbon was ceremonially severed, while a coterie of VIPs watched.

It was old home week at Mesquite Trails: Among the dignitaries at the ribbon-cutting were Interim Superintendent Mark McKinney, the school's first principal, and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Jovy Yankaskas, Stewart's immediate predecessor.

And then, by class, the students all took a lap.

Stewart is already thinking about the future: Oak Hills High School, opening in August 2009, will have a competition-level rubberized track. The biggest expense in building such a track is clearing, digging, grading and then pouring a concrete track base, all of which has now been done at Mesquite Trails.

"Since we already have the concrete base, it would be a much lower cost to just come and spray the overlay on it."

But the new track is already a hit with his students.

"It's been overwhelmingly successful," he said Friday. "I think pretty much every classroom has gotten out there already."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.