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Fun With a Purpose


There may be only one group of people in Atlanta that have the energy to keep up with the Atlanta Falcons for a full hour of constant activity: elementary-age children.

On Tuesday, the entire Falcons roster took over the Atlanta community, visiting schools, the Shepherd Spinal Center and a Publix grocery store in Brookhaven. The event was part of the United Way and the NFL's partnership in "NFL Play 60," a program to support in-school, after-school and team-based programs to encourage children to get active each day for at least 60 minutes.

In their 38th year together, the United Way and the NFL have continued to team up to do good work in communities around the country. Since the "NFL Play 60" program launched in 2007, the NFL has committed $200 million to youth health and fitness through programming, grants and media time for public service announcements.

The Falcons franchise was the only team in the NFL that had its entire roster scheduled to participate in Tuesday's events. Members of the front office including President and CEO Rich McKay joined the players in the Hometown Huddle league-wide day of service. The Atlanta Falcons Women's Association also served lunch at Crossroads Community Ministries in downtown Atlanta on Tuesday.

At the schools the Falcons visited, the players participated in a variety of events with the children, including exercising and throwing and kicking footballs and soccer balls. More than a few players tried their hand at the always entertaining hula hoop.

At Garden Hills Elementary in Atlanta, Falcons players Tony Gonzalez, James Sanders, Harry Douglas, Kelvin Hayden, Eric Weems, Joe Hawley and Jose Valdez were welcomed into the school's gym by the kids as the Falcons' choir-anthem "Rise Up" played over the loudspeaker. The children, who did not know the players would be coming to their school, cheered with excitement as they realized who had joined them for PE class Tuesday morning.

Before long Gonzalez was working with kids on running routes and catching passes. It got so competitive at one that the future Hall of Fame tight end had the kids doing push ups each time they dropped a pass. Hawley played a bean-bag toss game with the kids, while Douglas cheered bowling students on. On the stage in the gym, Valdez did his best to hula hoop with children.

Weems enthusiastically jumped rope, while teaching the kids various techniques including the criss cross. Sanders conducted a racing station and shook the hand of every child that came through as he introduced himself and asked their name.

Tene' Johnson, Garden Hills PE teacher was thrilled to have the Falcons take over her class and work with her students. A huge Falcons fan, she's in her first year as the PE teacher at the school, previously spending nine years at Parkside Elementary, a school the Falcons visited during a previous year's Hometown Huddle.

"Garden Hills really enjoyed the Falcons coming out and sharing the day with us," Johnson said. "The kids had a great time. It was really cool to see all the players outside of the field and sharing their thoughts. The kids loved it and it was awesome. We're so glad they came."

Judging by the smiles on the players' faces and their enthusiasm with the kids, they're glad they came, as well.

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