When Vincent Jackson, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, pulled up to Pizzo Elementary School on Thursday morning, it was evident that something special was about to occur.
"There is energy in this building," said Jackson, who had taken time during his offseason morning to visit the elementary school neighboring the University of South Florida. "It's fun for us to get out here and interact with the kids and allow them to see that their efforts don't go unnoticed."
Those efforts were part of the NFL's ongoing Play 60 campaign, and they definitely drew attention to Pizzo Elementary. In fact, they resulted in a $2,000 donation in new physical education equipment along with a celebratory visit from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the American Heart Association for winning the 2014 Buccaneers PLAY 60 Challenge.
This school year, 18 BUCS CARE SCHOOLS competed in the program to learn about the importance of daily exercise, with a chance to win funds for their school's Physical Education department. The fifth-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 P.E. makeover. Pizzo claimed first place and four other schools - Miles Elementary ($1,500), Cleveland Elementary ($750), Egypt Lake Elementary ($500), and Foster Elementary ($250) – also received donations to their P.E. programs.
"We want to make sure that they're not only getting their education, but they're being good citizens, they're being good students with their classmates, good behavior, and all of those things are a part of being good parts of our community," said Jackson. "Play 60 is a big part of that. It allows us to get out there, encourage them on a diet, their behavior, their activities and the things that they are doing, and it's outstanding."
Throughout the month of January, Pizzo Elementary School totaled over 164,000 minutes of exercise amongst participating fifth graders, averaging more than 2,000 total minutes of exercise per child. Overall, 1,052 fifth-grade students in Hillsborough County took part in the Buccaneers PLAY 60 Challenge, with the participating schools combining for more than one million total minutes of physical activity.
"With the amount of video games that are coming out and the fact our students have really strong thumbs by playing these devices, this is important because we need to have a healthy community," said Susan Valdes, vice chair of the Hillsborough County School Board. "This is a great start to being able to teach the students at a young age what it's like to be healthy and live a healthy life."
On Thursday, Jackson was joined at the school's celebration by defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Will Gholston, linebacker Ka'Lial Glaud, safety Keith Tandy and tight end Tim Wright, as well as Buccaneers Cheerleaders, Captain Fear and members of the American Heart Association. In addition, Valdes and Assistant Superintendent of Hillsborough County Schools Gwen Luney addressed the students about the importance of physical activity and sound nutrition before the Buccaneers presented the school with the new athletic equipment. Fifth-grade students, as well as select first-graders who exemplified exceptional PLAY 60 habits throughout January, were also rewarded with an extended P.E. class led by the Buccaneers players and cheerleaders, joining together in their commitment to living fit and active lifestyles.
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.
"We're looking at a generation of kids that may not outlive their parents because of the rise in childhood obesity," said Kate Sawa, executive director, market vice president of the American Heart Association. "The opportunity to draw attention to childhood health is strategically important to us, and allowing us to have partnerships with the Buccaneers allows us to elevate that cause and that issue, and it makes it fun and relevant."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play an active role in youth development through a variety of health and education initiatives supported by players, coaches, cheerleaders and staff. With an increased emphasis on youth health and wellness, the Buccaneers' PLAY 60 Challenge and BUCS CARE SCHOOLS initiative help teach students the importance of education, nutrition and exercise, renewing the team's commitment to support youth charitable causes throughout the Bay Area.
"As we move forward in trying to impact the health of all Americans, we can do it a lot better through a partnership with the Buccaneers," said Sawa. "And we're very fortunate to have it."