The NFL's Play 60 campaign aims to reverse the trend of childhood obesity by inspiring kids to be active for at least 60 minutes a day. On Tuesday, members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent an hour at Orange Grove Middle School providing the right kind of inspiration.
Led by running back Kregg Lumpkin, safety Corey Lynch, fullback Chris Pressley and wide receiver Maurice Stovall, more than 70 students spent over an hour participating in football drills as part of the Buccaneers' Play 60 Challenge. The Challenge is a partnership program with the American Heart Association that encourages Tampa Bay students to eat healthy and be physically fit.
"We have this obesity problem in America with the kids and you see the habits that develop young and a lot of adults say, 'I didn't do much when I was young,'" said Pressley. "If we can reach the youth, it can help America, help whoever, whatever city, whatever community, help teach communities all across the world the importance of staying active and staying fit."
While Pressley hit students with a high-arching pass, Lynch directed children through a series of footwork and tackling drills. Meanwhile, Lumpkin and Stovall organized relay races, challenging students to run through foot ladders with a football in each hand.
Despite a cool breeze in the autumn air, students and players alike worked up a good sweat while enjoying the variety of activities on hand.
"We are trying to show them that being active, fit and healthy is a great way to go," Pressley reiterated. "Developing habits at a young age is a good way to set it off for being young adults and growing into their adulthood. We are just trying to get them being healthy so they can pass it on to their younger brothers or sisters that they need to get sixty active minutes a day of playing. Have fun, double dutch, play basketball, just have a good time and it could be a whole lot of fun while they're doing it. So we don't want it to seem boring; this is really fun and we want to let them know."
Tuesday's visit was the first of four middle school stops the Buccaneers will make during this year's Play 60 Challenge. At the conclusion of the season, the team will invite students from each school to participate in a fitness challenge at One Buccaneer Place, where they will compete for grants towards their physical education programs.
At Orange Grove, a Title I public school that lacks a gymnasium or much playground space, such a grant would come in particularly handy. An old retention pond now filled in with grass and the school's main driveway serve as the primary areas for students to play.
"I think it's really great that this was the first stop on the tour for the Bucs, because one of the issues that we contend with here at Orange Grove is that we are land-locked and don't have much room," said Scott Rudes, principal at Orange Grove. "But [our PE teacher] makes excellent use of the space that we do have."
The school's lack of space didn't deter the students' enthusiasm, which was obvious to anyone in attendance.
"They helped us with some drills, like footwork and running through the cones and tackling the dummy," said Artice Holland, an Orange Grove seventh grader. "I really enjoyed that one because we were able to do our football dance and catch the ball… and I'm a diehard Buccaneers fan."
Despite the excitement of having the Buccaneers on hand, the day's true message did not escape the 12-year old, who promptly responded when asked why the outdoor activities were important.
"Because it keeps your heart healthy," Holland said.
"It's definitely important to today's youth," added Lynch. "God has created our bodies wonderfully and masterfully and it's our job to keep up with them and keep in shape. It's just a great program for kids to come out and play every day."
Following the hour of drills, the group gathered for a question-and-answer session. Topics such as diet and exercise were a focus, and students also asked about college and the daily rigors of the NFL. The players replied with honest and impactful responses.
"I don't know how much they will take from it, but I know they will understand that we took time out and the importance of it," said Pressley. "If we change one kid, that's what we look to do."
For the American Heart Association, the relationship with the Buccaneers makes all the difference.
"These students need to be led by example," said Kate Sawa, communications and marketing director for the American Heart Association. "You could tell by their questions that they don't know what goes into being an NFL player because there is a lot more than anyone would really expect. So being able to interact with the player, play catch with them and see the importance of physical activity first-hand, was something they will take away for a lifetime."