When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled up to Oakhurst Elementary in Largo on Tuesday, they almost felt as if they were at home. A group of Buccaneer players, cheerleaders and representatives were greeted by a marching band, peppy cheerleaders, a roaring crowd and even a homemade pirate ship…all the familiar trappings of Raymond James Stadium on a game day.
It was inspiring, to say the least.
"When we drove up, there was something like 300 kids out there just screaming their heads off," said safety Corey Lynch, clearly impressed.
The oversized welcome was for Lynch and teammates kicker Connor Barth, safety Sean Jones and offensive tackle James Lee, who were visiting Oakhurst to congratulate the Mustangs for being named Tampa Bay's 2011 Play 60 Super School. The students also gave a big hand to the Buccaneers Cheerleaders and team mascot Captain Fear. The Bucs' visit was a prize that meant a lot to the student body after months of adhering to the NFL's Play 60 mantra.
"We've heard several kids say that this is the best day ever," Principal Kelly Kennedy said. "We have the Bucs here. We won the Play 60 contest. Everybody in the school is wearing red and black or Bucs attire, and we're very excited to have the Bucs come."
The school's involvement in the Play 60 started at the beginning of the NFL's 2011 season, when fans were encouraged to show their spirit by planning a unique Back to Football Friday school event focused on youth health and wellness. Schools such as Oakhurst Elementary entered the league's online contest by submitting photos of their event and answering brief essay questions about how their students are committed to staying active and healthy.
The NFL Play 60 Super School contest selected one school in each of the 32 NFL markets and two non-NFL markets. Winning schools received a grant for health and wellness and a special visit from their local NFL team.
On Tuesday, in front of a sea of red and black, the players spoke on the importance of good health as part of the NFL's Play 60 campaign, which encourages children to get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. Players and cheerleaders then coached students in exercise drills as part of a planned Ultimate NFL Physical Education Class and donated all fitness equipment used during the class for students to use in the future.
Barth, who enjoys paddle boarding when he is not playing football, encouraged students to find something they love to do to stay active and be outside as much as possible.
"Being in Florida is such an advantage for these kids because even in December or January you can be outside," Barth said. "They can be outside and be active every day. It's December, and it's 80 degrees. It's important to just try to be as active as possible."
"It was good to share the message," added Lynch. "God's given us these bodies for a reason and a purpose, to glorify Him, and we need to be active and take care of our bodies and not just sit on the couch and play video games all day."
On behalf of the NFL, the players also presented the school with a $10,000 NFL Play 60 grant for health and wellness programming or equipment.
"We're a school that doesn't get a lot of money, so that's obviously is a big deal," said Kennedy. "To let them have this opportunity to improve their program is great."
In addition to making a contribution to the school, Procter & Gamble honored Tabitha Connell as Oakhurst's P&G Super Parent for going above and beyond in helping the children in the Largo community get active and healthy. Lee's mother, Elaine Bain, also attended the Play 60 event as a special guest and presented a check for $1,000 in Connell's name to support the school's athletic department.
"It's a great honor," Connell said. "It's nice to be recognized for what we do here at Oakhurst Elementary. Oakhurst made a pledge to commit to be fit. Seeing that donation in my name…it shows them that it's a job well done for them and that the fruits of their labor are being rewarded."
Connell, who has been on the board at Oakhurst for nine years, currently has two children enrolled at the school and is on the wellness committee. She was one of many who gave the Buccaneers a warm welcome on Tuesday morning.
"Because they're a hometown team and a lot of kids watch and go to their games, I think it means a lot to Oakhurst and the kids here to see their idols, the people they see every week on TV, come and promote healthiness," Connell said. "I think it really makes a difference because when you see someone in a position that you respect, their words take on a whole new meaning."
For more information on NFL Play 60, visit http://www.NFLRush.com/Play60.