John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx was full of energy and praise Tuesday afternoon as the New York Jets presented a $125,000 donation to the Public Schools Athletic League Heads Up! program. The donation was made toward reconditioning every helmet in the PSAL, continuing the first-ever PSAL girls varsity flag football league, and supporting the CHAMPS middle school flag football program.
With the temperature in the low 60s, Jets fullback John Conner delivered the check outside on the school's Coach Horowitz Field. The donation was made possible by a grant from the NFL's Youth Football Fund.
"When I was in high school, if we had an NFL player come out, it was definitely a big deal," Conner said. "You look up to those guys. I love coming out and being that role model for them to look up to and help out with the program."
The afternoon's festivities began with Robert Colon, Kennedy's assistant principal and athletic director, addressing the crowd. Colon, a Kennedy alumnus, believes the Jets' donation is a blessing.
"I wish I had something like this as inspirational when I was a student here," Colon said. "I was a gymnast and I wanted to be a football player, but I only weighed 106 pounds at the time. But my goodness, if I had something like this, it'd be so awe-inspiring."
PSAL executive director Donald Douglas thanked the Jets and the Kennedy principals for hosting the event. While the Jets have now had a community partnership with the PSAL for over 10 years, Douglas said it's always a special moment whenever kids in the league get the opportunity to have a professional athlete visit with them.
"The New York Jets supporting the student-athletes at Kennedy High School in the Bronx is very important to the students and can make a strong difference in their lives," Douglas said.
Following the check presentation, Conner posed for pictures with members of the boys varsity football team and with members of the girls flag football team. He also signed autographs and provided pointers to the team's running backs as they participated in drills. Conner stressed the importance of team concepts and spoke briefly with Andy Lancberg, Kennedy's second-year head football coach. Lancberg told Conner how much he appreciated the donation for the reconditioning of helmets.
"Helmet safety, especially in the NFL, it's pretty big," Conner said. "I think it's great to take care of the helmets and making sure everybody is safe by remodeling them."
While items such as new uniforms are usually affordable, Colon said helmets are always the toughest piece of equipment to renew.
"As athletic director, I handle funding for the teams," he said, "and I was really wondering where the next dollar was going to come from for reconditioning the helmets and purchasing new helmets. Thank goodness for the Jets for this wonderful, wonderful donation. It's going to keep our team alive and keep the program alive for the most part."
In the PSAL, more than 30,000 student-athletes on more than 2,400 teams from 200 high schools compete in 28 varsity sports and nine junior varsity sports.
"Without the support of the New York Jets, these things wouldn't be possible," Douglas said. "The expansion of our program has been great and the support the Jets have given us has been great. We really appreciate it and we look forward to continuing our partnership over the next decade."