6/30/15 - Weight Loss Challenge: Week 5 - Helpful Meal planning ideas

In the first entries of this series we looked at the basics of weight loss, then some simple applications to reduce calories, and finally how important it is to choose the "correct" calories. With the basics covered, we jumped into ways to get moving and burn more calories. Today I want to provide some ideas and practical applications to make this lifestyle change a little easier and maintainable.

Among many issues, lack of planning is a roadblock along the way to a healthy lifestyle. Having already discussed the pitfalls of dining out on a regular basis, it makes sense that preparing your own foods is the best way to go. The problem lies in lack of ingredients, cooking skills, and time. Cooking skills is definitely a learned behavior, but is easily solved with the help of calling up mom, or searching Google and YouTube. Lack of ingredients and lack of time requires planning far in advance in order to circumvent the issue.

Meal planning and such is definitely possible with just a few recipe books and some pen and paper, but for me, I have had great success using the iPhone/iPad app Menu Planner. There are plenty of other options out there. A quick google search for "Menu Planning Apps" returns plenty of good options, including this article from Lifehack. The beauty of these types of apps and websites is that you can enter a list of recipes and ingredients, and meal plan for the entire week. Once you've got a good plan laid out, it will generate a grocery list for you, which you can take with you to the store and get all the ingredients you need for an entire week of meals. It also cuts down on waste and excess as you'll know ahead of time exactly what foods you need to have.

On Saturday, I sit down and determine what meals I'd like my family to eat for the week. Breakfast and lunch are usually generic, requiring little to no prep work. These might include Sweet Rice for breakfast, or cereal and toast. Lunch is typically sandwiches, quesadillas, or salad. For dinner, I'm able to use the app to group our recipes by protein (chicken, pork, beef, etc). I try to vary the types of meat and vegetables we eat to help prevent boredom. Once the week has been outlined, with just the click of a button, I'm able to generate a shopping list and walk through the house to determine which of the ingredients we have. The app details recipes down to salt and pepper or even needing to add water to a sauce, so I check each ingredient to make sure we have enough for the week. After a quick trip to the grocery store, we are ready for 7 days of meals.

That process helps with having all the ingredients on hand, but it doesn't always help with having the actual time to prepare your food. To help with this, I try to spend part of my Sunday afternoons preparing as much of the food for the week as possible. Things such as white rice can be prepared in large batches and easily lasts a week in the fridge. Peeling and cutting most vegetables for the week saves time when you need a half cup of diced onions for your spaghetti sauce on Wednesday. I grill up about 5 pounds of chicken every Sunday to use as my main dish at lunch, and also for dicing on salads or mixing into Guacamole Chicken Salad.

Two other things that have been helpful for me is Freezer Meals and Crock Pot/Slow Cooker recipes. Right now, our family favorite slow cooker meal is Bourbon Pulled Pork. It's as simple as putting all the ingredients in the slow cooker over night in the fridge, and then pulling it out and turning it on low in the morning for about 8 hours. We usually throw some meat on the plate, heat up some canned baked beans, and cook up a veggie for a very easy, tasty meal. And as long as portions are controlled, it is completely reasonable for maintaining a healthy caloric intake. Notice I also didn't mention a bun, there's one more way to save 150 calories without losing quality of the meal. As for freezer meals, the sky is the limit and most of the options we have tried are also slow cooker meals. At some point in time, you fill a container with all your ingredients and freeze. When you need a meal on "short" notice, pull it out to thaw overnight and cook in the slow cooker during the day.

Disclaimer: I am not a fitness trainer, nutritionist, scientist or weight loss guru. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last roughly 10 years researching weight loss for my own knowledge and to help my family stay healthy. All information provided has been helpful for me, but carries no guarantees. I am willing to discuss at length any topics mentioned and would love to be proven wrong in order to better myself and my knowledge.
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6/18/15 - Weight Loss Challenge: Week 4 - Get Moving - The Basics

In the first three installments of this series we looked at the basics of weight loss, then some simple applications to reduce calories, and finally how important it is to choose the "correct" calories. Notice that up until this point we have only discussed reducing how many calories we consume and NOT how to increase the calories burned. Well, that changes in this weeks entry where we start with some basics of getting up and moving around.

The reason that we haven't talked about exercising for weight loss is because it's not a reasonable approach. The Mayo Clinic has a nice chart showing the average number of calories burned doing different types of activities. For a 200 pound person, for example, walking at 3.5 mph (about a 17 minute/mile) for an hour would burn around 400 calories. Swimming at a light or moderate constant rate for an hour would burn more than 500 calories, but there is a downside to all of this.

First, most people don't have an extra hour in their day to perform these types of activities for 30 minutes, much less a full hour. It takes about 5 seconds to put the extra donut back in the box instead of the half hour of leisurely bicycling to burn it off. Second, prolonged, strenuous activity makes you hungry. When the body starts burning fuel, it immediately let's you know that you should probably refill the tank. When my wife trained for her first half marathon, she gained weight just from trying to not be hungry. She didn't change her diet other than just trying to suppress her body's hunger signal.

I'm a sucker for a catchy cliche, so I'm going to give you two of my favorites that are applicable:
Here's the catch to all of this. Exercise for the purpose of weight loss isn't feasible. However, the ultimate goal for weight loss should be for your health, and exercising plays a major role in that. Here's a study from the US National Library of Medicine, an article from cancer.gov, and a write-up on the Mayo Clinic's website all detailing the benefits of exercise in regards to a person's overall health, including but not limited to better cardiovascular health, reduced risk of cancer and energy boosts. Of course, if those resources are not enough, I highly suggest reading anything from a Google search for other research findings. Now that we understand WHY we should exercise, we have to figure out how to do it. Just like there are some quick, simple steps to reducing calories without changing much of anything, there are also some simple steps to get things started. These are things that you can do in your every day life that will not require any extra time or resources and can actually save you time in some cases. These steps are definitely a good start, but there are still other simple things to do without costing you a dime, or taking up hours of your day. No travel time or special equipment required either. There are multiple apps and programs you can follow with nothing but body weight exercises. Apps such as the Johnson and Johnson 7 minute workout and Sworkit offer a quick and easy exercise program without any thinking on your part. The J&J app seems to offer a slightly better user experience in regards to a "brainless" operation. However, both will provide a quick and easy exercise program geared towards your current fitness level and available time. If weight training isn't something you're interested in (although I highly suggest it, and will provide plenty of reasons in a future blog entry), but still want to get moving, aerobics has always been a bit hit. My wife has been following the Refit Revolution YouTube channel. She clears out a small area in our living room, throws the video she wants to follow on the laptop or the iPad and gets to moving. That's it. No equipment, no travel time, no anxiety issues of working out in front of or with other people. It's just her, our daughters and our living room.

Disclaimer: I am not a fitness trainer, nutritionist, scientist or weight loss guru. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last roughly 10 years researching weight loss for my own knowledge and to help my family stay healthy. All information provided has been helpful for me, but carries no guarantees. I am willing to discuss at length any topics mentioned and would love to be proven wrong in order to better myself and my knowledge.
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6/15/15 - Weight Loss Challenge: Week 3 - Quality Calories

In the last two installments of this series we looked at how to lose weight: consume fewer calories than you burn. In the second installment, we looked at some easy ways to reduce your daily caloric intake. We also covered how quickly calories can add up without realizing it. This week we will look at how different foods can affect your body. Not all calories provide the same amount of nutrients and if you want your body to run at the optimum level, you must provide it with quality calories.

I highly recommend reading this article from the World Health Organization (WHO). Two of the key points to consider is the recommended daily amounts of sugar and salt. For someone consuming a 2000 cal diet, WHO recommends no more than 6 tsp of free sugar a day or 25 grams. By free sugars, we are referring to all sugars added during food preparation as well as natural sugars in honey, syrup and fruit juices. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends less than 1500 mg/day of sodium and provides additional information regarding the relationship between salt and sodium.

Now, how do we apply this. In the first post, we discovered that for a male of my age, weight and height, I can consume 2050 calories a day to maintain my current weight. To lose an average of 1 pound per week, I would need to consume about 1540 calories per day. But now, lets examine what kinds of calories I can consume. Technically, I could consume 11 cans of soda (140 calories each) and meet my daily caloric requirements. Based on what we have learned so far, I would lose one pound a week if I maintained this routine every day for a week. But as we all know, this is a very poor weight loss strategy. The body requires a wide variety of minerals and vitamins, in order to perform at its optimal level. If I maintained this diet, I would quickly find myself lethargic and sick. I would also be hungry every day. Although I am consuming the right amount of calories, I’m not consuming the right types of food. The result is sickness and an overall feeling of the technical term: poopy.

Lets look at another, more realistic example. Lets say for breakfast I run through McDonald's drive-thru and grab a Sausage McMuffin sandwich which has 370 calories and a cup of coffee with 1 tbsp sugar which contains 50 calories. For lunch I drink a coke (140 calories) and I eat a Hickory Ham and Cheddar Lean Pocket with whole grain crust (270 calories). I eat some popcorn (100 calories) as an afternoon snack and for dinner I eat 1.5 cups of Marie Callenders Frozen Lasagna (420 calories) and a side salad that contains a small amount of cheese, croutons and 1 tbsp of Italian dressing (150 calories). On the surface, I consumed 1500 calories of fairly “healthy” food, meeting my caloric needs. But lets take a deeper look at these “healthy” foods. The first thing to notice is the lack of volume of food. After just one day of this, or a similar plan would result in a near constant state of hunger. This is a common issue and often times results in giving up on losing weight, sometimes the hunger is just too much. The types of food I chose were right on target for calories, but they don't offer much else. I chose low quality calories and therefore was only able to eat a small quantity of each food I chose. My sugar and sodium intake was also far above the recommended amount. The mcmuffin contains 780mg sodium and 2g sugar. The lean pocket has 540mg sodium and 5g sugar and the lasagna has 1290mg sodium and 9g sugar. Add in the coke with 45mg sodium and 39g sugar and for the day my sodium intake was 2655 mg. This is about 1.5 times the recommended amount according to the American Heart Association. My total sugar intake was 55 grams which is 2x the recommended amount by the World Health organization.

Lets take a look at a third example. This is a very realistic option considering its actually very similar to what I eat every day. For breakfast I eat 4 scrambled eggs (288 calories) and drink a cup of coffee black (0 calories). Lunch consists of 6oz grilled chicken (280 calories), ¾ cup sweet pot with 2 tsp brown sugar and 1tsp butter (250 calories) and ¾ cup green peas (87 calories). I usually have 2 bananas each day, one for a morning snack and one for an afternoon snack (100 calories each). Dinner consists of 4oz broiled salmon (100 calories), 1 cup of rice (225 calories) and ¾ cup black eyed peas (150 calories). Total calories for this meal are also right around 1550. So whats the difference between this days food and the previous days food? Well, for starters, I consumed a much larger quantity of food with this plan over the previous plan. Therefore, I’m not feeling hungry, but rather consistently full and satisfied. I never feel like I'm sacrificing, which increases my chances of sticking with this lifestyle change. For this days food, the eggs I ate for breakfast contained 250 mg sodium, lunch contained 175mg sodium and dinner 150mg sodium. My total sodium intake for the day was 575 mg which is far below the recommended 1500mg. The only free sugars I consumed were in the brown sugar and butter which would be far below the 25mg recommended but could also easily be taken out of my diet without sacrificing much on taste and nothing on feeling full.

So, how do we apply all of this to our daily eating habits? What are some practical steps we can take to improve the quality of the calories we eat? First, read the labels. When buying anything that comes in a box, bag or can, each ingredient should be pronounceable and recognizable. As a general rule, if it can't be pronounced or doesn't look familiar, it's probably not a good source of quality calories. Ideally, processed foods should be removed entirely from a healthy diet, removing the need for critiquing every ingredient. Processed foods are notoriously high in sodium and sugar. So by transitioning the foods you eat daily to foods that you know all the ingredients, you will automatically reduce your salt and sugar intake. By staying away from processed foods and eating as many fresh meats, vegetables, fruits and grains as you can, you will not only be losing weight but will be giving your body all it needs to function at its optimum level. This will be very beneficial when we discuss next weeks topic: Get Moving!

Disclaimer: I am not a fitness trainer, nutritionist, scientist or weight loss guru. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last roughly 10 years researching weight loss for my own knowledge and to help my family stay healthy. All information provided has been helpful for me, but carries no guarantees. I am willing to discuss at length any topics mentioned and would love to be proven wrong in order to better myself and my knowledge.
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6/9/15 - Weight Loss Challenge: Week 2 - Reduce those calories

In the first installment of the Weight Loss Challenge, we discussed the basics of how weight is gained or lost from a scientific standpoint. In this write up, I'm going to discuss some very simple steps to reducing the overall calories consumed. The standard American diet is filled with empty calories and excess calories.

The easiest modification for many people is the removal of calories from beverages. As an example, a can of Coke or Pepsi has 140-150 calories per can (12 oz). For those that drink a single can a day with lunch or dinner, that adds up to roughly 1000 calories a week. Assuming no other changes, that's an extra pound a month. Starbucks as an example, can be laden with more calories than most people realize. My personal favorite drink, the White Chocolate Mocha, has a fairly high 400 calories in a Grande serving. As can be seen, removing these small things, specifically liquid calories, can slowly add up to fairly easy weight loss.

Excess calories can come in many forms, but one often overlooked culprit is sauces, toppings, dips and spreads. When dipping chicken finger in ranch, each tablespoon adds roughly 75 calories. An extra tablespoon of mayo on a sandwich adds almost 100 calories. Adding just a single tablespoon of olive oil drizzled on a salad adds about 120 calories to the meal. In so many cases, the small amount of food used in these applications appears on the surface to be minimal when it comes to calories, but the truth is, they can quickly add up and negate the otherwise low calorie choices. The solution to this is to either careful monitor the use of these toppings and dressings, or to choose options with a lower calorie count. Mustard (9 calories/tbsp) instead of mayonnaise or italian dressing (35 calories/tbsp) instead of ranch are two reasonable substitutions.

Another simple step towards reducing calories is to eat smaller portions in general. The Small Plate Movement, which is backed by research from Indiana University (summary article) is a weight loss recommendation to simply use smaller dishes for meals. The basics are that many people will eat what is on their plate, and therefore with smaller plates, less food can be served in a single sitting. This doesn't reduce the impact of getting seconds and thirds, but for those that are content with a single plate of food, the minor differences can have a cumulative impact over time.

Smaller portions is quite a bit easier when eating at home, but when dining out can be out of the hands of the consumer. For example, the Roasted Salmon Quinoa Bowl from BJ's Brewhouse is 1040 calories, over half of a typical suggested daily calorie intake. At Chili's, the Caribbean Salad with Grilled Chicken is listed at 720 calories. One other example, an 8oz steak, house salad, baked potato and apple sauce from Texas Road Roadhouse comes to 888 calories.

On the surface, each of these offerings appear to be healthy, salads, chicken and fish, etc. But the quantity and dressings provided send the numbers higher and higher. A simple solution to counter act this is to either split a meal with a friend or family member when dining out, or to request a to go box with your food. As soon as the food is served, split it in half, placing half of the meal into the to go container for lunch/dinner on a following day.

One danger in reducing calories is to make a choice at the supermarket solely because of a "Zero Calories", "Reduced Sugar", or "Low Fat" label. I'll go into more detail next week regarding processed foods, but it is my recommendation to make decisions based on the food provided instead of the marketing language put on the packaging.

In summary, reducing calories can be as simple as eating fewer bites of a loaded baked potato at dinner, or one less sugary drink during the day. Reducing the size of one's plate is a helpful tactic in decreasing portion size and recognizing the caloric content of sauces and dips and adjusting accordingly can help decrease overall consumption as well. Instead of making major lifestyle adjustments at one time, taking these smaller, incremental steps towards lowering caloric intake can add up to big losses.


Disclaimer: I am not a fitness trainer, nutritionist, scientist or weight loss guru. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last roughly 10 years researching weight loss for my own knowledge and to help my family stay healthy. All information provided has been helpful for me, but carries no guarantees. I am willing to discuss at length any topics mentioned and would love to be proven wrong in order to better myself and my knowledge.
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6/2/15 - Weight Loss Challenge: Week 1 - Calories In, Calories Out

Weight loss is a very simple system. It's not an easy system, but it's simple, as in basic. When one consumes fewer calories than the body requires, weight is lost. The opposite is true as well. Consuming more calories than the body requires to function results in weight gain. There are no additional tricks to this equation.

Where some people can get confused is how much the body actually requires. Here is a pdf document from USDA.gov with estimations of average daily caloric requirements based on age, gender and activity level. This is just an estimation, but can be used as a starting point. For a more detailed calculation, the Mayo Clinic has a Calorie Calculator on their website. Other websites provide similar calculators. When using these calculators, it is paramount to understand that each person is going to be different. A majority of people will be able to get a very good estimate of their TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) from online calculators.

Once you have an estimated starting point for your TDEE, in order to lose weight, consume fewer calories than that number. It has been widely accepted in the medical community that one pound of weight equals 3500 calories. In other words, an overage of 3500 calories in one week would result in one pound of weight gain. Eat 3500 calories fewer than your TDEE over the course of a week and lose one pound. This simplifies down to an average of 500 calories per day over the course of a week for one pound. In order to lose two pounds per week, consume 1000 calories less per day. For the simplicity of this informational post, we are assuming weight loss of only reducing caloric intake. Obviously exercise can help in meeting the caloric deficit required. We will address this in a future post.

Now that you know your estimated starting TDEE, how does this really help? Now start tracking food, and make sure calories are consumed at a rate equivalent to a goals. There are several phone apps and websites that help with this. If you aren't using one already, I suggest Lose It! or MyFitnessPal (MFP). I have personally had great success with Lose It! but heard many success stories from MFP.

As an example, I'll use myself. I am 34, stand at 5'11" and currently weigh roughly 155 pounds. According to the Mayo Clinic calculator to maintain my current weight while performing no physical activity I should consume on average 2050 calories daily, this is my TDEE. Now that I know my TDEE of 2050, if I want to lose 1 pound a week, I would need to consume on average 1550 calories per day. So that's where I would start. 1550 calories per day, every day, for a week. At the end of the week, I will step on the scale and see where I stand. If I have lost exactly one pound, I know I'm exactly where I want to be and will continue to do the same process. But if the scale says no weight loss, or a weight loss of less than my goal, I will lower my original estimated TDEE to 1950 and consume 1450 per day. All this means is that the original calculator I used was not calibrated exactly for me.

Now at 1450 calories per day, I'll weigh again in a week. If still no weight loss, rather than reducing my calories, I might want to take a closer look at my calorie tracking. It's very easy to not count the small bite of chicken I ate while prepping dinner. It's easy to pretend like the coke I had at lunch doesn't really count. That small bite of brownie I snuck while walking through the break room doesn't "really" count. Each of those will add up, and if I'm not being honest, could easily be the reason why my weight is not moving like I want.

In summary, from a scientific/physics standpoint, the basic formula regarding weight loss is to consume fewer than your body burns in a day. Use an online calculator to get an estimate of average daily requirements and then track calories down to the after dinner mint. Adjust the daily calorie goal as time goes on, and with discipline, weight WILL be lost. (Unless of course you are able to defy the laws of thermodynamics)

Disclaimer: I am not a fitness trainer, nutritionist, scientist or weight loss guru. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last roughly 10 years researching weight loss for my own knowledge and to help my family stay healthy. All information provided has been helpful for me, but carries no guarantees. I am willing to discuss at length any topics mentioned and would love to be proven wrong in order to better myself and my knowledge.
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4/12/14 - Little Rock Office March Madness Challenge 2014 Final Results

We did in fact end in a five way tie. Something I had never imagined would happen. However, the final total score of 114 was much lower than most people predicted. The end result was the low score won. Congratulations to Jason for taking first and rights to proudly display the trophy for the next year. Levell and Stephen each will have their names immortalized on the trophy as well.


Name Points Tiebreak
Jason Holland 60 115
Levell Kinchen 60 125
Stephen Shirley 60 128
Darren Tillery 60 141
William Dunn 60 175
Randy Spellins 59 143
Chris Johnson 58 141
Jon Albright 58 147
Matthew Carpenter 58 107
Barry Settlemoir 57 145
Tamra Upton 55 115
Kent Bryant 55 0
DJ Walker 52 145
Flint Allen 51 177
Roderick Ott 51 158
Donna Griffith 48 146
Michael Hall 42 180

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- March Madness 2014 comes to a close.

UConn beat Kentucky in the title game this year with a final score of 60-54 for a tie break value of 114. This puts Jason in 2nd and Levell in 3rd. Payouts will be coming soon as well as documentation of the updated winner's plaque.

Name Points Tiebreak
Elizabeth P 2 61 157
Jason Holland 1 60 115
Levell Kinchen 60 125
Darren Tillery 60 141
Elizabeth P 1 60 157
Randy Spellins 59 143
Greg Walker 59 160
Matthew Carpenter 58 107
Phillip Walker 57 148
Mike Bumgardner 57 135
Barry Settlemoir 57 145
Jason/Kylah 55 154
Kent Bryant 55 0
Donna Bumgardner 53 143
Blake Bumgardner 53 143
DJ Walker 52 145
Jason Holland 2 52 118
Roderick Ott 51 158
Jessica Walker 48 167
Roxane Martino 44 149
Cristi Walker 43 160
Whitney Walker 42 117

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4/6/14 - LROMMC 2014: A 7 seed versus an 8 seed?

As you can imagine, no one predicted this match up in the championship game, and in fact only two people had Connecticut as far as the Final Four, and only Michael Hall had Kentucky as far as the Elite Eight. This results in a five way tie for first, second and third place. I will attempt to break down the possible scenarios in the following table. I do not guarantee accuracy as I am tired, and have no control over exactly what I put in the table.

I will do a full review of the data following the game on Monday evening.

Final Score Range 1st Place2nd Place 3rd Place
<= 120JasonLevellStephen
121-121LevellJasonStephen
122-126LevellStephenJason
127-128StephenLevellJason
129-133StephenLevellDarren
134-134StephenDarrenLevell
135-150DarrenStephenLevell
151-151DarrenStephenWilliam
152-158DarrenWilliamStephen
>=159WilliamDarrenStephen

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- March Madness 2014: What an interesting match up for the title.

First and foremost, I have to apologize. Apparently, I managed to miss Levell's tie score when I created the possible scenarios spreadsheet. He has been tied, and is currently tied for 2nd/3rd place and will be in the running for those position, even though he does not appear in the scenarios spreadsheet.

Congratulations are in order, as Elizabeth 2 now has a lock on the first place title. She will officially have her name on the plaque and will be awarded first place money upon completion of the championship game.

As for who will be taken 2nd and 3rd, I have broken it down into the possible scenarios as there is a four way tie for these positions. The left column is the exact final score, the 2nd column is the 2nd place winner and the third column is the third place winner.

I make no guarantees that the following calculations are accurate. I believe they are close, but I am tired, and will do a full investigation upon completion of the game on Monday evening.

Final Score Range 2nd Place 3rd Place
<= 120 Jason Levell
121-128 Levell Jason
129-133 Levell Darren
134-141 Darren Levell
142-149 Darren Elizabeth
>=150 Elizabeth Darren

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3/30/14 - LROMMC 2014 - Final Four has been set

I have updated Google Drive with the final eight possible scenarios. A five way tie will happen if Connecticut makes it to the championship game. It will be a matter of the Kentucky/Wisconsin game to determine if those five will fight it out for all three places or if Matt will take the win and leave 2nd and 3rd to be fought over. If Florida makes it to the championship however, Stephen and Jason will battle for first with Chris in 3rd, unless Kentucky beats Florida in the title game where William gets in the mix with Stephen and Jason, where they will all battle it out for all three places.

Here are the current standings wit updated links so you can view everyone's picks.

Name Points Tiebreak
Levell Kinchen 60 125
Stephen Shirley 60 128
Darren Tillery 60 141
Jason Holland 60 115
William Dunn 60 175
Randy Spellins 59 143
Chris Johnson 58 141
Jon Albright 58 147
Matthew Carpenter 58 107
Barry Settlemoir 57 145
Tamra Upton 55 115
Kent Bryant 55 0
DJ Walker 52 145
Flint Allen 51 177
Roderick Ott 51 158
Donna Griffith 48 146
Michael Hall 42 180

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