Last fall, students and teachers at Williston Middle School, which is located 120 miles north of Tampa, celebrated the 2012 football season with "Show Your NFL Spirit" days. Along with wearing their favorite Tampa Bay Buccaneers gear, the Red Devils demonstrated their love of football by incorporating health and wellness activities into the curriculum, including NFL combine-like P.E. classes and student rewards for healthy diets.
On Friday, they were rewarded in a very special way.
A group of Tampa Bay Buccaneers special teams stalwarts – kicker Connor Barth, punter Michael Koenen and linebacker Dekoda Watson – traveled over two hours to congratulate Williston Middle for being named one of 34 NFL Play 60 Super Schools throughout the country. With help from a group of Buccaneers Cheerleaders, the players presented the school with a $10,000 Play 60 grant for health and wellness programming or equipment.
Gathered in the school's auditorium in front of a sea of red and pewter, the players spoke about the importance of proper health as part of the NFL's Play 60 campaign, which encourages children to get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. Select students also received coaching from the players and cheerleaders in exercise drills as part of the Ultimate NFL Physical Education Class, which included brand new fitness equipment donated to the school as an additional reward for their efforts.
"They showed they are a super school just by the energy level and how everybody participated and wanted to participate," said Watson. "Even when they were in class, students wanted to be a part of the Play 60 event. Everybody was actually active and not worried about messing up their hair or messing up their school clothes or anything like that. These kids were getting it in. It definitely showed out there and it was fun."
To celebrate the start of the 2012 NFL season, fans were encouraged to demonstrate their passion for their favorite NFL teams and their excitement for the season by planning a unique Back to Football Friday event for their school, all to support youth health and wellness. Schools that entered the contest submitted photos of their event and answered brief essay questions, and the NFL Play 60 Super School sweepstakes selected one school in each of the 32 NFL markets as well as two non-NFL markets. Winning schools received a $10,000 NFL Play 60 grant and a visit from an NFL team.
"The money was great because we don't have a big budget for P.E. equipment," said Williston Middle School Principal Pamela Asbell. "But their presence, I think, is even more valuable because students are used to us talking to them every day about what's important in life and studying hard. I think having the players come out and talk to them about hard work, studying and staying in school makes a big impact, a much bigger impact than the adults that are around them every day."
In conjunction with Friday's presentation at Williston Middle School, the Levy County School District also received a $10,000 grant through the NFL Network "Keep Gym in School" program. Now in its fifth year, the "Keep Gym in School" initiative continues its mission to boost fitness and physical education across the country. This year, NFL Network is teaming up with the NFL Play 60 Super School programs to offer $10,000 grants to schools in 32 team markets and two national markets that show their commitment to health and wellness.
"We have almost a zero budget for physical education equipment," added Asbell. "Coach [Trent] Viau is going to be purchasing some equipment to hang some additional goals in the gym. That's very important, because we have to share gym time between the girls and the boys and we only have two goals. Our practices sometimes have to go late because we don't have that equipment, so this is going to enable us to have that."
Last November, the Buccaneers made a similar visit and grant presentation at Northwest Elementary School in St. Petersburg to congratulate students and teachers for being named Tampa Bay's Play 60 Super School. Williston Middle School represents one of the two schools outside of an NFL market, and on Friday, there was little doubt about the Red Devils' "Play 60" spirit.
"I think that the greatest part is actually being able to interact and see how the kids really appreciate the things that we are doing," said Watson. "Being active…when I say being active, these kids were going all-in. It was very fun and new, because it was two hours away. But it was definitely worth the trip, and I'd be willing to do it again."