Students at Sterling Park Elementary School in suburban Orlando understand the importance of exercise and healthy living. This spring, they were rewarded for it.
Last Wednesday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Dekoda Watson, a group of Buccaneers Cheerleaders and team mascot Captain Fear traveled to center of the state to congratulate Sterling Park for being named one of the NFL's Play 60 Super Schools. The announcement was the culmination of an NFL initiative that honored one school in each of the 32 league markets as well as two non-league markets, providing each with a $10,000 grant for health and wellness programming or equipment.
The sweepstakes, which asked schools around the country to demonstrate their NFL spirit in support of the League's Play 60 campaign, was particularly rewarding for Sterling Park, one of the two non-league market winners chosen. The Eagles had to beat out a huge number of competing schools from all over the country.
Last December, the Buccaneers honored Oakhurst Elementary School in Largo as the Tampa Bay-area winner.
Watson and his fellow Buccaneer representatives were greeted by a roaring reception at Sterling Park on Wednesday, with hundreds of students packing the school's auditorium. There, Watson led a short pep rally that emphasized the Play 60 message about the importance of physical activity, making sound decisions and working hard in school.
After fielding questions from students about his own nutrition and exercise practices, Watson and school officials hoisted an enormous check, acknowledging the NFL's $10,000 donation to Sterling Park's physical education program. The group also recognized the school's designated NFL Play 60 Super Parent, Elisha Fox, for her dedicated efforts to give back to the students.
The big check garnered rousing applause from the student body, but the fun wasn't over yet. Select students were directed outside to participate in physical education activities with the Buccaneer guests, once again emphasizing the importance exercise has in a child's daily life.
At the designated activity area, the kids divided into five groups to showcase their athleticism at different stations: jump ropes, hula hoops, agility courses, relay races and weight training. For the next 45 minutes, the groups rotated stations to get their heart rates up. Even the cheerleaders and Captain Fear joined in on the activities, doing their best at hula hoops and jump rope.
Watson led the charge and the students emulated his every move, including his ever-present smile.
"They are just out here having fun, and they want to have fun and run with you," said the Buccaneer linebacker. "I think that is just something special and just a blessing to see kids enjoy themselves."
The scene was particularly gratifying for Jason Fox, Sterling Park's physical education teacher. Finally witnessing the results of the school's hard work towards the Play 60 campaign was perhaps more satisfying for the teachers than the students.
"I've been teaching for 10 years, and it's just so rewarding to see students accomplish certain skills that we teach them as physical education teachers," Fox said. "It's rewarding to see them having fun. I think that's the important thing. Number one, they are having fun, and number two, that they learn what they're supposed to learn so they can use it later."
The primary goal of the NFL Play 60 campaign is to encourage kids to be physically active at least 60 minutes a day, but grants such as the one handed out to Sterling Park makes a more specific difference in the lives of hundreds of kids.
"Our schools are so strapped for cash, that in many cases, the physical education program has to work off of a very thin budget," said Curriculum Specialist for Seminole County Public Schools, Mary Lane. "This will allow them to not only buy new equipment to enhance physical fitness and physical activity, but also replace some old and worn-out equipment. But, more importantly, [it will provide] enough equipment so that every child has equipment that they can use. There's no standing in line, no waiting. We want to keep them moving from the moment they come out to physical education classes to the moment they go back in."
As Watson hurdled pylons and weaved in and out of cones, he couldn't help but recognize that his personal workout was serving a greater purpose.
"It's a beautiful thing, and I'm just glad I can be a positive influence," Watson said. "One of the greatest joys of being a Buc is that you can definitely be a positive role model to somebody."