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First lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday amid her Florida campaign activities paid a surprise visit to a local gymnasium where about 20 children were practicing basketball.

"I didn't know she was going to come, but I recognized her right away," said 8-year-old Santiago, one of the Hispanic kids in the group, in remarks to a small group of reporters who were on hand to witness Ms. Obama's visit to the gym.

The sports facility is located near the auditorium in Ft. Lauderdale, 25 miles or so north of Miami, where the first lady later held a campaign event with strong Democratic supporters of her husband, President Barack Obama, who is seeking reelection in the November election.

"They don't know who's going to come or what's going on, but I'm sure that they're going to recognize her perfectly," said Desmond Dogan, the vice president of Life Sports Fitness, the non-profit organization that organized the basketball practice session, moments before Ms. Obama's arrival.

Life Sports Fitness also organizes various programs for children from the community between the ages of 6 and 18.

The organization, Dogan said, "tries to offer a safe environment for the kids to have where they can spend the afternoons or the time they're not in school doing homework and at the same time where they can manage to incorporate into their lives from an early age the habit of exercising."

"We also talk with them about good nutrition habits and, on more than one occasion, we've commented on Michelle Obama's initiatives to promote exercise and healthy eating," he said.

Also, he said that some of the kids whom the organization serves had prepared the choreography for pop singer Beyonce's song "Get Me Bodied" as part of the "Let's Move Flash Workout" campaign to get in shape pushed by Ms. Obama to combat obesity.

The children let out shouts of surprise and there was an enormous commotion when they saw the first lady appear in the door of the gym, although for a short time some of them tried to continue with the basketball moves they had been practicing.

However, they soon dropped everything to gather around the president's wife, whom they did not stop hugging, kissing and asking for autographs amid much excitement and exclamation.

"She was nice and I gave her a piece of paper so that she could put her name on it for me," said Santiago timidly but excitedly, adding that he told his parents about the first lady's surprise visit later when he got home, where - he said - his family eats a healthy diet and gets plenty of exercise.

While Ms. Obama spoke with the children, one of them drew her a picture and gave it to her, and later everyone gathered around for a group photo.

"It's a very mixed group of kids. I estimate that about 20 percent of them are Hispanic, in line with the population of the county," explained Jared Campbell, the founder of Life Sports Fitness.

Ft. Lauderdale is located in Broward County, which is just to the north of Miami-Dade County. EFE