When Kyle Wilson spoke to several hundred Morris County middle school students two months ago, he gave them a homework assignment of sorts: Participate in at least one hour of physical activity every day for four weeks straight.
It's called the Jets Play 60 Challenge, and the goal is to teach kids the importance of developing healthy habits. The message is simple: Exercise is important, but it can be fun. And what could be more fun than wrapping up their four-week challenge with an hour of games with an NFL player?
Kyle visited with the kids from Madison Junior High School, Holy Family School and Harding Middle School earlier this month, and Tuesday he concluded his rounds by traveling to St. Vincent the Martyr in the morning and Ridgedale Middle School in the afternoon.
"This whole thing was really fun for me," Wilson said. "To go and have the effect of putting a smile on the kids' faces just from showing up makes me feel good inside. They appreciate the little stuff, the high-fives, the enthusiasm, encouragement, they appreciate all that, and I just try to give it my all by offering wisdom and answering any questions they have."
"Kyle understands his role in this whole thing is that the kids get inspired by him," said Jim Presbrey, vice president of the American Heart Association NJ Youth Market. "He can be a great role model just by coming out here, talking about physical activity, and really using his ability as a pro athlete to set a tone and send a great message. The kids get so excited about it and it means the world to them."
Eleven students who successfully completed the challenge (one boy and one girl from each of the five schools plus one other chosen from a pool of all the schools' kids) were randomly selected to lead the Jets out of the tunnel for our next home game, Sunday, Dec. 1, when we take on the Miami Dolphins. Everyone went home with a New York Jets hat and a certificate signed by Kyle Wilson.
The kids at each school were divided into two groups, Team Kyle and Team Jesse (led by Jets community relations director Jesse Linder) and competed in a best-of-7 series of games involving jumpropes, scooters, footballs and more.
During the visit to St. Vincent, Wilson's team needed all seven games to get the job done but eventually pulled out a series win.
Along the way, Kyle had his share of ups and downs. In a race to see which team would hit 10 free throws first, No. 20 missed his first two shots before walking away the hero with a swish on No. 10.
"I have fun playing basketball, but I just wish I was probably like a foot taller," the 5'10" cornerback said. "I knew I was coming up and a couple kids before me hit Nos. 8 and 9, so I thought it would be sweet if I made it. One-for-three, but I came through in the clutch, so I'll take the gamewinner," he added with a laugh.
The jumprope competition was a different story, though, as Kyle was the first one eliminated in a group of 40 participants.
"I grabbed the wrong rope," he said. "It surprised me because usually I can easily go 60 seconds straight, but I had a short one so it hit my foot really quick and then I was out of there."
While the friendly competition lasted just one hour at each of the schools, the hope is that the healthy habits will be ingrained in these kids forever.
"There are many different ways to get your 60 minutes of fitness as far as sports, activities, chores and stuff like walking the dog, little things like that," Kyle said. "There's no wrong way to go about it, but we're just encouraging them to go out and get it done, really be consistent, track it over a set period of time, and ultimately shape their lives growing up."