The students from Burnett Middle School, in their matching purple "Play 60 Challenge" t-shirts, fanned out across the middle practice field behind One Buccaneer Place, whooping it up and calling for deep passes from Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback B.J. Askew.
The students - five boys and five girls representing one of four schools at the Buccaneers' headquarters on Thursday morning - had just finished the Punting Drill that made up one quarter of the Play 60 Challenge. They had a few minutes to kill before the other three schools finished up at the 100-Yard Dash, Throwing and Sit-Up stations, respectively, and they weren't going to waste the chance to stretch their legs on the same field that the Buccaneers use to prepare for their games.
Obviously, these 10 kids had absorbed the Play 60 message.
The Play 60 Challenge is a program run by the National Football League and the American Heart Association that seeks to inspire students to be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. The NFL and the AHA want to help children adopt a healthy lifestyle now so that they will learn the behaviors that will lead to a longer, healthier life overall.
Or, as AHA Communications Director Kate Sawa put it: "We want them to live their best life for the rest of their life."
Buccaneer players have been participating in an ongoing Play 60 program since the beginning of the 2009 NFL season and the 2009-10 school year. Previous events in the program have been held at the participating middle schools in the Bay area: Burnett, Buchanan, Giunta and Sligh. On Thursday, the program was capped by the annual challenge at One Buccaneer Place, where 10-student teams from each school competed against each other to earn rewards for their schools.
More Tampa Bay players were on hand for the final challenge, too, as Askew, linebacker Quincy Black, offensive lineman Marc Dile and running back Clifton Smith roamed the fields offering encouragement and comic relief. Team mascot Captain Fear was also in attendance to help with that latter effort, and Buccaneers Cheerleaders Sara Tetzler and Stephanie Ritz led a thorough pre-event stretch.
Black started out at the passing drill, helping toss the footballs back in after each attempt, but he eventually made his way around to all four stations and all four teams. His description of the event was certainly one that the energetic students could agree with.
"Play 60 is just fun," said Black. "These kids, they really should be out enjoying themselves, being kids. That's what it's really about. Sometimes kids get caught up in their environment and don't really know how to be kids. But this Play 60 the NFL is doing is a great program."
All 40 students participated in each event, and their scores were combined to arrive at the overall team standings. Before the challenge began, the students were informed of the stakes: grants of $2,000 to the first-place school, $1,500 to second place, $1,000 to third place and $500 to fourth place.
The Burnett team, which was clearly both enthusiastic and athletically gifted, took home the top prize, just holding off the Buchanan competitors. Giunta came in third and Sligh took the fourth-place prize.
Burnett's Jonathon Dukes put up the top individual marks in both the Throwing and Sit-Ups Drills, with a toss of 139.1 feet and a total of 80 sit-ups in 60 seconds. Modeled on the Punt, Pass & Kick method, the Throwing Drill combined distance with accuracy to come up with each competitor's score.
Dukes' Burnett teammate, Chandler Powell, had the longest football kick with an 86-foot blast. Darrien King of Buchanan was fastest through the 100-Yard Dash, finishing in 11.72 seconds.
Members from the Giunta team won three of the four drills among the girls. Angel Nararrette pulled off the same double-win as Dukes, throwing the football 115.1 feet and doing 68 sit-ups in one minute. Kaylaun Edwards took the 100-Yard Dash for Giunta with a blistering time of 12:56. The fourth drill was one by Burnett's Kiana King, who kicked a football 68 feet.
King performed well in the Throwing Drill as well and clearly helped his team stay neck-and-neck with Burnett, though he admits he wasn't as highly-ranked at the Sit-Ups station. But no matter the final team or individual rankings, the event was a success for all 40 participants simply for the message that was absorbed by all.
"The message is to get fit and active," said King. "Stay in shape. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance [to visit One Buccaneer Place]. I'll never forget this chance to come out here. It's very important to stay active, so that when you get older you'll be more active and stronger."
Smith, who was recently named the Buccaneers Man of the Year for his contributions on and off the field, attends countless community events but considers the Play 60 initiative one of his favorites. Smith was active as a child, the kind of youngster whose mother had to come out and bring him every night after the street lights came on, and he knows that helped him develop into a healthy adult.
"I think today's event was a great success, a chance for the kids to come out and compete and earn money for their schools," he said. "I think the biggest message to get out to the kids was just to get outside and go play a little bit. Put the video games down, stop watching the TV and just go outside and exercise a little bit.
Askew hopes the presence of the four Buccaneer players at the event also helped get the message across.
"Play 60 has a really good thing going on," he said. "We want to get the kids out playing at least an hour a day, get them off the video games and refresh their bodies and brains. I just wanted to come out and show my support, and it's fun out here playing with these kids. Growing up, I wish I could have been playing with the football players, too."