Two hundred students in the sixth to eighth grades experienced a special treat Tuesday.
The students, from five different school districts in New Jersey, New York City and Long Island, the participated in a Fuel Up To Play 60 event at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
Third-year Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was the Green & White player helping to lead activities and he described the time spent with the kids as rewarding.
"It was a good experience," Wilkerson said, "just to teach the kids about health and nutrition."
Kate Grosso, American Dairy Association event specialist, was in charge of the program. Grosso, who has held her position for the past year and a half, labeled the day as one that consisted of nothing but inspiration.
"Kids are told a lot of the time to fuel up and be healthy," Grosso said. "But we wanted to bring more meaning to that and actually inspire them to do that on their own."
Shortly after the students arrived at the facility, they heard from motivational speaker Tony Jordan, who spent three seasons in the NFL (1988-91) and in January 2007 launched the Tony Jordan Youth Sports Foundation. According the foundation's website, its primary mission is to "support youth sports … done right," which means providing the opportunity for youth to engage with positive adults, build character through their participation in sports, and have adequate equipment and facilities.
Following Jordan's message, everyone in attendance moved to the Jets auditorium to the fieldhouse, where they engaged in five different exercise stations. The most popular stations included stretching, running pass routes in between large, blown-up milk cartons, and learning the "Harlem Shake" dance. Wilkerson, positioned at the pass-route station, threw passes to the students in the end zone, and once a student hauled in a reception, he or she was required to perform a touchdown dance.
"Some of the moves I was impressed with," No. 96 said. "A lot of salsa and Ray Lewis dances going on. I know where that comes from. They were definitely creative. Some of them were wacky, but it was cool. I enjoyed it, I had a laugh."
Grosso said the American Dairy Association runs identical Fuel Up To Play 60 programs with the Bills and Giants. Tuesday was their first time doing an event at the Jets' training facility.
"We call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Grosso said. "Passion, fuel and heart. That's what we really want them to walk away with is those three words and keeping them in mind."
The students all wore green Fuel Up To Play 60 T-shirts with the back of the shirts reading: "BE THE CHANGE 4.9.13."
Grosso hopes people understand the deeper meaning behind Tuesday's Play 60 event.
"The 'fuel up' part comes from being sponsored entirely by dairy farmers," she said. "So we try and get the message across where they're not behind the scenes. Dairy farmers work hard every single day, 365 days a year, they wake up at 4 a.m. They really embody a work ethic. So we consider our local dairy farmers to be just as much superstars as our players. But bringing it to this facility really sheds a bigger light on what they do and the hard work that they have."
The fun-filled program concluded with group pictures alongside Wilkerson and the students forming a circle to compete in a Harlem Shake dance-off. Wilkerson chose the winner of the competition, who was awarded a Jets football.
When Wilkerson was growing up, he never had the opportunity to attend an NFL facility or experience something like the 200 kids did Tuesday in Florham Park. From his perspective, he was just appreciative to be involved.
"I'm sure they enjoyed today," he said, "and hopefully they enjoyed my presence here."
From the smiles shining on their faces when they departed the facility, we can assure they most certainly did. Fuel Up To Play 60 is a program founded by the NFL and the National Dairy Council in collaboration with the USDA that empowers students to take charge in making small, everyday changes at school.