Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson entered the gymnasium at Netcong (N.J.) Elementary School on Tuesday to a raucous ovation from hundreds of youngsters decked out in green gear. The excitement and enthusiasm from the children was matched only by Ferguson himself as he introduced the Eat Right, Move More program to the children in an effort to defeat childhood obesity.
"To be a part of the Eat Right, Move More program has really been an honor," Ferguson said. "To come to every school and see the effort that they put into trying to really be a great school that teaches about healthy eating and preaches about moving more, it's just awesome to be a part of something that is great and I'm excited that I can have fun with it. I had as much fun as the little kids do, so it's really been a great program."
Ferguson was joined by N.J. Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher, who assisted the Jets in donating $5,000 to Netcong Elementary in order to improve their kitchen facilities and help their students eat more nutritiously at lunchtime. The Eat Right, Move More campaign is a partnership among the Jets, the Department of Agriculture, and the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council's Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign, which is the first step in a larger effort to build healthy eating habits early in life.
"It's all a part of a multipronged effort," Fisher said. "Obviously, it has to be learned in the home and in the school, and this is just one of those areas where you can make a difference. Clearly D'Brickashaw and the Jets are showing it by showing up and delivering that message."
The highlight of the day was when Ferguson took the microphone and spoke to the students. He was so engaging that many of the youngsters wanted him to continue telling them about his life, his football career and his nutrition tips instead of moving on to the trivia-and-prizes portion of the afternoon.
During a nearly 30-minute question-and-answer and trivia period, Ferguson joked and interacted with the students, which brought cheer to the entire audience and to school principal Melissa Bammer.
"This is something that the students will remember for the rest of their lives," Bammer said. "They were so excited and I could just see their faces from the stage. They were so thrilled to be here."
While quieter and more contemplative in the locker room and around the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, Ferguson seemed like a natural on the stage, moving out from behind the podium and mingling with the throng of exhilarated students. He learned the ability to talk to children and teach them about health from his own mother, who is surely proud to know her son learned a thing or two from her.
"My mom for a number of years was involved in the school system as a school nurse and as a health teacher," Ferguson said. "If she were able to see me doing some of this, she'd just get a nice laugh at it to see all of her years teaching hit home. I'm actually doing some health teaching myself so it's kind of funny how things work out."
This is the fifth year that Ferguson has been the spokesman for the Eat Right, Move More program. and Bammer and Fisher were accompanied by six students onto the field at New Meadowlands Stadium during the Jets' home game against the Dolphins on Dec. 12 to represent the campaign.
As important as the lessons Ferguson doled out was the money that the Jets donated to the school, which Bammer explained will be a major impact on the day-to-day lives of the children at Netcong Elementary.
"The $5,000 that we've received from the New York Jets will allow our food-service program help us provide more fruits and vegetables for our children, which will allow them to make healthier choices every day during their lunch period," Bammer said.
Ferguson, the 2009 Pro Bowler and No. 4 overall draft pick in 2006, knows all about how to keep his body in shape, and while he admitted to the students that he doesn't always eat healthy, he only strays to junk food in moderation. He's a role model who showed his ability to connect and convey an important message to these students and is a perfect spokesman for the program.
"When I come to the school and talk to the kids about healthy eating and healthy habits," Ferguson said, "I think they just take a little bit from that and then they can apply that to their lives. I would just be honored and I think it's just great that we can start talking about those things now at an early age so later in life it can just become habit-forming."