Hometown Huddle - Jets Neighborhood Playground Makeover Photos 09
Football requires a unique amount of passion from its participants who put in all the hard work to achieve success. Similarly, so does teaching.
Several members of the New York Jets got a glimpse into the lives of some special teachers and staff members Tuesday while taking part in the NFL's annual Hometown Huddle, a league-wide day of service with numerous United Way chapters across the nation.
"When we go out every Sunday and try and have a great game and we're trying to win the Super Bowl, every day these people are winning the Super Bowl," said quarterback Mark Sanchez. "It's been a joy to be here today."
The Jets participated in their Hometown Huddle at P.G. Chambers School in the New Jersey town of Cedar Knolls, located 10 minutes from the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park.
Dave Szott, a former Jets guard, twice winner of the Ed Block Courage Award in his 14 NFL seasons and now Jets director of player development, knows the school well. His son used to go there.
Szott, the team chaplain for two seasons, currently oversees a number of NFL-mandated programs for the Jets.
"It starts at the top with our ownership and Mr. [Woody] Johnson's feeling about community first," said Szott. "That's something actually he learned from the culture of J & J [Johnson & Johnson] that his grandfather started. It's very, very important to be involved in the community."
Matt Higgins, the Jets' executive vice president of business operations, began Tuesday's event with an introduction during which a $50,000 check was presented to the school for the "Huddle" project, which includes the donation of a state-of-the-art treadmill and the installations of a multisport court and new fitness equipment in the play area.
"Play 60 is the NFL's commitment and campaign to ensure that every individual in the country spends 60 minutes a day being physically active," said Higgins. "None of us have the same abilities. We all face certain challenges. We all want to be active, we all want to run, we all want to play."
One child named Alex was excited just to be out of his wheelchair and walk around in his walker. He was very humorous on this day.
"I'm going to try and get some autographs," Alex said to one reporter. "If I don't get any, that's OK. ... Hey, I might get one for you."
"In our class we have nine children. Six are in wheelchairs. Some kids get two-to-one aides," said teacher's assistant Elisabete Barreto. "But they're funny. They will joke around about everything. I mean everything."
Finding joy in tough times is something the players can relate to, since they do the same when faced with an injury or a tough loss.
But these children's difficult circumstances limit their physical activity every day. That's why the equipment was installed: to help these children with special needs that are typically less active and less fit.
And the players love it, spending their day off with a bunch of underprivileged children on a beautiful, sunny day. They encouraged them to be fit while helping them to use the newly installed equipment.
"These kids out here, they're overcoming, and with all the stuff that they have, they're still out here having fun. You just have to enjoy life," said LB Jamaal Westerman. "Just to see the smiles on their faces, they're having a good time out here being fit."
One of the kids, Henry, whom the school's teachers and staff members call the "spokesman" for the kids because of his willingness to get on the mic, expressed his happiness, on behalf of the group, of course.
"I think the students will appreciate playing with the Jets," Henry said. "And after they play with us, then they're going to do the team cheer."
"J-E-T-S" Henry said, and all the children joined in unison.
"It's great for them to be able to do something they don't get to do all that much," said RB Shonn Greene. "You can see the excitement, them jumping around and moving around a lot. They're ready to do stuff even before we are."
Hollister Construction Services set up the new equipment and donated the demolition and removal of the old equipment, coordinated and managed by United Way of Morris County. But the final touches were done by the Jets players — Sanchez, Greene, Westerman, Keith Fitzhugh, Matt Kroul, Ryan McKee and Matt Slauson — leaving their mark on P.G. Chambers when they put down the multisport court.
"It was a sandpit before," said Sanchez. "They had a concrete surface over there and we put down a safe plastic surface with a big Jets logo on it. These kids will be Jets fans and they'll be safer, so it's great."
Edee Levey, the school's principal and assistant director, has seen a lot of changes to the school in the 23 years she's been there.
"Back then, we were a staff of 35. Now we're about 120. So it's grown," said Levey. "Physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech — we have an average of 13 or 14 therapists in the department. We're a big, happy group."