This spring, sixth-grade students at Pierce Middle School in Tampa were challenged to play 60 minutes a day.
The Pierce students met that challenge and, as they can now attest, playing hard can pay off.
On Tuesday, Pierce Middle School received an athletic equipment donation worth $5,000, along with a celebratory visit from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the American Heart Association, for winning the 2013 Buccaneers Play 60 Challenge.
This year, 10 middle schools competed in the program to learn about the importance of daily exercise and to get a chance to win funds for their school's P.E. department. The sixth-grade students at each school logged their daily exercise for four weeks, and the school with the highest average of minutes exercising per student was promised a customized phys-ed makeover.
Pierce Middle School came in first place in this year's challenge, and five other runner-up schools - Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, Liberty Middle School, Stewart Middle School, Turkey Creek Middle School and Mulrennan Middle School - will receive donations of $1,000 each for their P.E. programs.
"It was extremely important because the students did this with very little prompting from their coach," said Pierce Middle School Principal Anna Voida. "He told them what it was all about and he shared with them to set goals, and these kids went with it."
Throughout the month of February, Pierce Middle School totaled over 370,000 minutes of exercise among participating sixth-graders, averaging more than 3,700 total minutes of exercise per student. Overall, nearly 1,500 sixth-grade students in Hillsborough County took part in the Buccaneers Play 60 Challenge, with the participating schools combining for more than 2,635,000 total minutes of physical activity - the equivalent of nearly 44,000 hours of exercise over only a four-week span.
"I think the real incentive was for the kids to meet the players," said Jenna Winzenburg, communications director for the American Heart Association. "It shows how much, when you really inspire somebody, they're willing to work. The fact that these kids did so many minutes of exercise shows how important it is for them to meet the Bucs and hang out with the players, but also that they're taking this seriously. So it is a commitment and they're going to continue to do what they did to get out here."
On Tuesday, Buccaneers players including defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, quarterback Josh Freeman, and linebackers Lavonte David and Dekoda Watson, as well as Buccaneers Cheerleaders and members of the American Heart Association, spoke to the students about the importance of physical activity and sound nutrition. They also congratulated the school on earning new P.E. equipment, and surprised students with an added bonus: the donation of a new Xbox Kinect system, so that even indoor activities in front of the television would incorporate health and fitness.
"We accomplished something, showing the kids that there are ways you can go out and have fun," said Freeman. "Obviously I push for football, but there's more than just football. Kids can do everything and these kids have already showed that. This is just a way to come out and honor them and their accomplishments and it's just an all-around great day."
The Buccaneers Play 60 Challenge is part of a national campaign created by the NFL and the American Heart Association to inspire kids to exercise for a minimum of 60 minutes a day. NFL clubs throughout the league are teaming up with area American Heart Association affiliates to tailor the campaign to their local communities. Childhood obesity rates continue to be at an all-time high, and today nearly one in three kids and teens in the United States are obese or overweight.
"Kids just need to get out and play," said Freeman. "Nowadays with technology, there's so many alternate routes and video games. We learned about heart disease earlier and how important that just 60 minutes a day can be. NFL Play 60 does a great job of spreading the word to kids and giving them different venues and sponsoring events like this to get kids out there."