As part of the NFL's Play 60 Challenge, Jets wide receivers Brad Smith and Wallace Wright visited Ridgedale Middle School in Florham Park, N.J., on Tuesday and spoke to over 300 children about the importance of exercising and a few other tidbits of information.
The children from five participating schools — Ridgedale, Harding Elementary, Madison Junior, Holy Family and St. Vincent the Martyr — came together for the assembly and were full of smiles and curiosity. During a game of trivia, one student asked, "What did you want to be as a kid when you were growing up?"
"I wanted to be a singer," said Smith, "but I can't sing."
"A dentist," said Wright. "I wanted to be a dentist because my favorite uncle was one."
The trivia winners were given prizes of hats and T-shirts for remembering the players' answers when quizzed later, but there was also the ultimate prize that two kids from each school can win with the completion of the Play 60 Challenge — a chance to be on the field at the Jets' Nov. 29 game against the Carolina Panthers.
A member of the American Heart Association will go to each school and implement the program to assure that children are exercising 60 minutes each day, the goal being to stay "fit for life." Those who complete the four-week program will automatically be entered in a random drawing to be on the Meadowlands field. One boy and one girl from each school will be selected for this prize along with one wild-card student for a total of 11, representing the number of players on the field for a football team at a given time.
Presented by the American Dairy Association & Dairy Council's Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign, the initiative is part of a nationwide endeavor to tackle the inactive lifestyles and poor nutrition that have helped drive the current health crisis among America's youth. This was great timing, said Mark Majeski, Ridgedale's principal, because "kids are becoming lethargic these days and this is a great way to keep them active and moving."
"What did you do to stay active when you were young?" said one of the students.
"I played basketball and swam," said Wallace.
"Tag and basketball," said Smith. And when asked how he got to where he is now he said, "I played football when I was younger, and I was good at it. I worked hard, and things started working out for me."
But Smith wasn't just athletically gifted, he also worked hard academically, excelling to be an honor student in fifth grade. His mother encouraged him to play football so that he could "toughen up," and he enjoyed going to his favorite class, gym.
Wright's mother, on the other hand, "was afraid I would get hurt" while playing football, a sport he began to play at 9 years old.
The players then put their teaching skills on display when they led a gym class, demonstrating jumprope, hula hoop, a relay race, the basketball game "Knockout," and catching a football from Smith as the quarterback, a position the current WR played in college at Missouri.
"Anything to do with the kids, I love to do it," said Wright.
The players will go back to the school at the end of the program and they expect that plenty of students will successfully complete the program.
"I know when I was growing up, if we would have had NFL players come talk to us, it would have made a difference," said Wright. "Kids look up to us. When you hear things from people you look up to, it kind of sinks in a little more as opposed to your teacher telling you you need to do this or you need to do that because we were once like them."