Students awarded NFL Experience

A boisterous sea of more than 1,500 children in matching gray shirts bounded between football activity stations on Wednesday — running the 40-yard dash, catching touchdown passes and kicking field goals. They ran through speed and mobility drills, tested their throwing accuracy and distance and learned how to call penalties referees.

Coming from 14 schools across the greater New Orleans area, the students were the first group to explore the NFL Experience Driven by GMC at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

The field trip — with many coming from neighboring parishes — was the students’ reward for successfully logging in 60 minutes of physical activity every day over a 28-day period.

While at school, their teachers and coaches signed off on minutes completed. While at home, their parents or other supervising adults signed their personal logs.

Geri Winzy, a teacher who retired this month from Carolyn Park Middle School in Slidell, volunteered to accompany a group of 53 sixth-graders along with three other chaperones. “They don’t want to leave,” she said.

Winzy said the drill during which the kids jumped as high as they could to reach the football over the mini field goal was one of the favorite activities. The kids had fun competing with each other, and it was one of the shortest kids who jumped the highest, Winzy said.

There were some sad faces left behind at school, Winzy said, and last-minute pleas, but they had to meet their Play 60 goals to participate.

In school, she said the kids had the opportunity to rack up minutes in P.E. class as well as during lesson breaks while they did short sessions of jumping jacks or toe touches in their classrooms.

At Albert Cammon Middle School in St. Charles Parish, teacher and physical education coordinator Christina Mullins said that the parish and school board makes physical fitness a priority, and all students spend 60 minutes in P.E. class three times a week, with 73 percent of the students participating in sports.

One of the favorite activities for her 91 kids on Wednesday was playing the interactive Xbox Kinect with Eli Manning and Jimmy Graham, Mullins said.

Speaking in front of the students at a news conference before they loaded back onto their buses, Graham said that the obesity afflicting more than a third of the state’s youth is a serious problem, and kids can change that by being active 60 minutes a day. “There are 1,440 minutes in a day,” Graham said. “We only want 60.”

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson also spoke, telling the students that “You are the future on New Orleans.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the kids that their job is to work hard, “but you are supposed to play hard too.”

Jillian Laigast, a fifth-grader at Mayfield Elementary School in Slidell, said that she earned her day of play in New Orleans logging in P.E. class hours and doing things at home like taking walks and running up the stairs. Laigast showed off her Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham and Eli Manning autographs on her T-shirt, one of her highlights of the day.

Getting exercise is good for your body, Laigast said, and “makes your muscles get stronger, and your bones get stronger — and it helps you live.”