When Vladimir Ducasse bought a video game console for his younger cousins a few years back, he was hoping to spoil them with a form of entertainment that he wasn't fortunate enough to have growing up. He soon realized, however, that this gift came with unintended consequences.
"One day I went home and they were all just sitting on the couch playing Xbox," Ducasse said. "They couldn't even sit down and have a real conversation with me, and it's like, 'All right, there has to be a stop to this.' "
So Vlad did something about it. He told his cousins to turn off the TV and brought them outside to play basketball instead.
"You don't want to take it away from them," he said, "but there has to be a balance."
The 25-year-old guard (or more likely a power forward in the basketball world) wants to use his status as a professional athlete to spread that same message he gave to his cousins to kids everywhere.
"We as athletes have a humongous platform," LB Demario Davis said. "A lot of people watch us, and we want to be great role models and use what we've been blessed with to bless others."
Monday evening, they were able to give back to a group of students from Brooklyn Community Services' Generation Jets Academy at PS 306 in East New York. Ducasse, Davis and CB Darrin Walls stuck around the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, NJ, for an hour of fun fitness activities with the kids as part of the Play 60 Challenge.
If the students participate in at least one hour of physical activity per day over a four-week period, they're given a pair of tickets to the Jets-Raiders game on Dec. 8 at MetLife Stadium and are entered into a raffle to win a Toys R Us shopping spree.
From agility drills to throwing a football into a net to diving onto a padded mat and "scoring" a touchdown, the kids did almost everything an NFL player might do during practice.
Third-grader Messiah even got to race Darrin Walls in "suicides," sprinting from the front of the end zone to the 5-yard line and back, then to the 10 and back, then the 15 and finally the 20.
"It felt very fun because I'm a fast runner, I eat healthy and I'm also strong," the 8-year-old athlete said.
"A lot of kids come out here and they're kind of shy and don't want to run too much," Walls said, "so I think just pushing them a little bit and giving them something to go off of helps them a lot."
The race was a photo finish, too close to call.
"He gave me a battle," Walls said with a smile.
With expansion of technology over the past decade, it's more important than ever to encourage the next generation of kids to stay active, get outside and run around. Through Play 60, the hope is to spread this message and ingrain healthy lifestyle habits at an early age.
"I'm pretty sure all the kids have role models in sports that they try to look up to and want to go out and be like," Demario Davis said. "The thing is just to keep them from going home and trying to emulate that player on their video game and actually trying to go out and emulate that person outside playing."
Now, when Vladimir Ducasse heads home to spend time with his younger cousins, he has to hunt them down.
"I'll come around and it's like 'Where are they?' " he said, "and they're outside playing basketball. And that's very encouraging."