, Gloucester, MA


February 2, 2012

NFL Play 60 Kids Day gets them moving

INDIANAPOLIS — Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was basking in the relative anonymity Wednesday at the NFL Experience, goofing around with kids at one of the drill stations and signing autographs.

Brown was caught flatfooted when a reporter asked him, "What’s the funniest thing a kid has said to you?" He didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

"Can you tell us where Reggie Wayne is?" a fifth-grader, who had just walked up, asked Brown.

"That’s it right there," he said, laughing.

It was kids, kids and more kids Wednesday at the Indiana Convention Center, as 38 classrooms of fifth- and sixth-graders enjoyed a morning at the NFL Experience, courtesy of the NFL’s Play 60 Challenge.

Each of the kids had taken a pledge to spend 60 minutes a day doing something active. Their reward was rubbing shoulders with a bunch of NFL players and skipping all of the usual lines at the Experience.

And yes, Reggie Wayne was in the house.

"Man, I did that Xbox Kinect for two hours this morning, and I am still sweating," the Indianapolis Colts wide receiver said during a convocation, as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Colts owner Jim Irsay looked on.

From the NFL to first lady Michelle Obama, childhood obesity gets a lot of press these days, and it’s not surprising.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years, and 20 percent of kids ages 6-11 were considered obese during the last major study, released in 2008. That same study suggested more than a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Valerie Leak, an Indianapolis parent who was chaperoning her daughter Emily’s fifth-grade class, said she had "all kinds of strong opinions" on why so many kids are overweight.

"I just think kids need to have movement, and it's the parents' responsibility," she said. "That's the nicest way I can say it."

The host of kids at Wednesday’s event only sat still for the news conference and convocation, then jumped back on their feet when Nickelodeon star Leon Thomas III came out to sing.

Irsay was perhaps the best speaker at the convocation, recalling his days growing up in the Chicago area.

"We would go out, and no matter what the temperature was, we would go out near the lake, on a field of snow, and play all day long," he said.

"We mostly played 'killball' — but you shouldn’t do that — it's when whoever gets the ball gets killed, usually on concrete," Irsay said.

The good news for health advocates is that the focus on childhood obesity seems to be paying off in different areas of school physical education and nutrition.

According to the Journal of School Health’s comprehensive school health programs and policies studies, the percentage of schools serving deep-fried potatoes dropped from 40 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2006.

And the percentage of elementary schools requiring physical education increased from 83 percent to 93 percent in the same period.

More states are requiring that kids be allowed recess activity as well, after a period in which many schools traded recess for additional classroom time, according to the study.

The kids at Wednesday’s event, who all got T-shirts, all the autographs they wanted, a box lunch and a cool access pass lanyard, probably didn’t care much about the statistics.

Perhaps some of them were like Irsay, who confessed to being a "chubby kid" when he was around age 10.

"I ate too much," he said. "But then I got used to working out, and it changed my life."

Kate McNulty, a fifth-grader at St. Jude School on Indy's south side, said it wasn’t very hard to commit to the Play 60 pledge. A basketball and volleyball player, McNulty beat Wayne handily in a Kinect Sports foot race.

"You won because I was tired!" Wayne complained afterward. McNulty didn’t mind the sore-loser stuff, she just asked for Wayne’s autograph.

Over where Brown was standing, one of the volunteers, Susan Riggs, asked to take a picture with the Steelers’ star.

"You tell your mama she did a good job with you," Riggs said. "Some of these athletes won't talk with the kids like you do."

Over at the Punt, Pass & Kick station, Colts defensive back Brandon King was having a ball. The funniest thing a kid said to him Wednesday?

"Are you real?" he said, not missing a beat.

"Just seeing the look on their faces, and seeing them smile, it feels real good," he said. "A lot of them have probably never seen an NFL player. I know I never did when I was growing up."

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