The middle school teams competing in the What Moves U final at Buccaneers headquarters clearly enjoyed the chance to be outside and active
Dazmond Patterson is only in middle school, but he got the message years ago.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFL and the American Heart Association are trying to help all Bay area schoolchildren understand what Patterson has known since he was just a little boy with heart problems: Physical activity during childhood is critical to a long, healthy life.
That's the message, in a nutshell, of the joint AHA/NFL program called "What Moves U," which rolled out nationally in 2006 and has recently made a big impact in several Bay area middle schools. Supported by campus visits from a variety of Buccaneers players, the "What Moves U" campaign has urged thousands of local kids to adopt more active lifestyles in recent months.
On Friday, that series of visits culminated in the reverse trip, as dozens of Bay area students paid a visit to One Buccaneer Place, the Buccaneers new state-of-the-art headquarters. Teams from Ben Hill, Beth Shields, Marshall and Turkey Creek Middle Schools competed in a series of football-oriented fitness events and won cash prizes to take back to their schools.
Patterson was a member of the Marshall team that claimed first place, and thus a $2,000 reward for his school's physical education program. He helped by dominating in the football throw competition with a toss of over 51 yards, not a completely surprising outcome given that his goal is to be a quarterback in the NFL.
But these middle-school delegations were far from athletic all-star squads; rather, they were a group of young students, with varied backgrounds of academic and athletic success, who had participated in previous fitness-promoting events at their schools. The idea of "What Moves U" isn't to highlight athletic skill; it is to promote the idea that physical activity can and should be a part of a child's normal routine. On Friday, that meant several rounds of running (80-yard dash, 50-yard backpedal), throwing (football pass), kicking (punt) and general fitness (one minute's worth of sit-ups).
"The purpose is to talk to the children about physical activity," said Kate Sawa, communications director for the American Heart Association. "There is a partnership between the NFL and the American Heart Association nationally, and we're talking to kids about the importance of physical activity and how they can incorporate that into their daily lives. This was a brainchild of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and our local AHA office."
Buccaneer players such as Greg White, Maurice Stovall, Will Allen and Jerramy Stevens have pushed that message at recent school visits. On Friday, defensive tackle Chris Hovan and wide receiver Chad Lucas were on hand to pass out prizes after the visiting students completed their competition. The teenagers from the four Bay area middle schools got a look at the Bucs' impressive facility and adjacent fields on which the players practice, then got a chance to use those same fields for their own pursuits.
Jennifer Waite, another AHA representative who is involved with a variety of in-school programs, could see that the visit to the Bucs' headquarters provided motivation for the students to pursue physical activities. In addition, the Buccaneers donated $500 to the AHA at the end of Friday's events, and various related programs at the local schools have also raised funds for the organization.
"This has been awesome," said Waite. "It has really encouraged the kids to get out there and the schools to participate in these programs. With the Bucs coming out to their schools and now this, they're really seeing that we're giving them something back and we're not just an organization with our hand out. It's really a partnership."
What the AHA wants to do is attack the problem of heart disease before it is a problem. By promoting an active lifestyle to today's students, the AHA and the NFL hope to eliminate problems that can lead to poor health during adulthood.
"Heart disease is the number-one killer of all Americans, and one of the risk factors for heart disease is physical inactivity, and a secondary risk factor is obesity," said Sawa. "It is really, really important to get across the message of being physically active at a young age."
Patterson gets it. He was diagnosed with a heart problem at an early age and has had to remain vigilant in his health and monitoring of the problem since. He was particularly appreciative of the AHA's presence at Friday's event.
Patterson's fellow 39 participants get it as well. All of them enthusiastically passed, kicked and ran their way through the five events on the One Buc Place fields on Friday morning, followed by a boxed lunch and an awards assembly in the team auditorium.
Hovan and Lucas spoke at the assembly, with both players urging the kids to spend less time playing video games and more time outdoors. Hovan thanked his parents for pushing him to do the same, which led him to develop his athletic skills and build numerous close relationships through sports and other activities.
The players then helped pass out the individual awards, which went to the following students: