First Down for Fitness kicked off at Margaret Winn Holt Elementary school in Lawrenceville where students had a chance to get on their feet with Falcons players and volunteers.
"Go Falcons!" echoed loudly inside the Margaret Winn Holt Elementary School gymnasium, late Tuesday morning, signaling the start of the Atlanta Falcons Gatorade Junior Training Camp, the kickoff event for the eighth year of the First Down for Fitness program, presented by the employees of Marsh & McLennan Agency and Publix Supermarkets.
First Down for Fitness is a three-month long program, from early September through the end of November, and challenges children grades third through seventh in Georgia to participate in physical activities and lead healthier lives. The program is incentive-based and rewards students for being active for 60 minutes each day, five days a week. Over 72,000 students in 222 schools across the state participate in the program, as well as four schools from Mexico City, Mexico.
One hundred and fifteen fifth graders were eagerly waiting to see which of the five stations set up for the event, which is part of the National Football League's Play 60 movement, they would start at. They sat on the gym floor staring up at Atlanta Falcons kicker Josh Harris, this year's ambassador for the program, offensive tackle Lamar Holmes, and practice squad safety Sean Baker, who took time out of their off day to come to the event.
The fact that the players took the time to come out and participate with the students "sends a strong message," said principal Ellyce Cone.
As the students got sectioned off to their stations, which included quarterback, running back, and defensive back stations, a fitness station, and an obstacle course, the energy in the gym spiked. Once all of the students were distributed around the gym, the music was turned on and the activities began.
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For 60 minutes, the students ran back and forth, throwing and catching footballs. They ran through ladder drills and cone drills, scored touchdowns on a large padded mat and danced without a care in the world.
"Whatever may be going on in their world, they see a professional athlete, maybe they forget about the bad stuff and they enjoy that moment," said Bryant.
The program, which is designed to get kids involved in physical activity, brings Falcons players to participate with students in hopes of bringing a smile to their faces. Although the players are touching the lives of the children they are teaching, the children are touching the lives of the players just as much, if not more.
"They get to see us outside of our helmet, outside of our shoulder pads, see who we are, see how we interact with them," Holmes said. "At the end of the day, I'm a big kid myself at heart. I would probably sit down and watch cartoons with them."