Students at Grant Elementary School in Santa Monica were given a lesson out on the playground May 20 from a man with some impressive credentials.
While the students are used to getting a lesson in a variety of subjects at school each day, this was a lesson in jumping jacks and the instructor happened to be 2011 Heisman Trophy winner and national collegiate football champion Cam Newton.
Newton, the quarterback of BCS (Bowl Championship Series) champion Auburn University and the top overall selection by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft, along with about a dozen other high draft picks, visited Grant Elementary to help conduct a clinic on healthy living.
As part of the community event, the future NFL players met with fourth- and fifth-graders in their classrooms to answer questions and out on the playground, where they playfully joined the youngsters in a series of fitness stations designed to measure speed, agility and balance. Of course, no visit to a school would be complete without autographs and pictures, to which many of the players gladly complied as they were mobbed by the excited youths.
Grant Elementary was the only school selected nationwide to host the “NFL Rookie Premiere” event, presented in conjunction with Verizon Wireless, an event spokesperson said. The event was held while the NFL drafted players were visiting the Los Angeles area for rookie-related functions.
“We’re sky-high on it,” Grant Elementary Principal Alan Friedenberg said of the opportunity for his students to meet with future professional football players at the school.
“We just completed a series of arduous state testing and we’re preparing for our open house. It’s been a good year and this is sort of a nice little bonus.”
The students were eager to welcome the accomplished athletes to their school, Friedenberg noted, and several youngsters who wrote “heartfelt” essays were chosen to be ambassadors to escort the players around the campus.
The principal did not lose sight of the focus of the community event, saying that while students can get some autographs from future stars, they can also learn about healthy living habits and achieving goals from people who are dedicated to keeping fit.
“The beauty of this is that not only can they see these budding stars, but (the players) are going to be working out with them and they will be talking about good things with the kids,” Friedenberg said.
Prior to stopping by the classrooms and meeting with the students, the recently drafted NFL players met with reporters for a brief news conference. Asked about the message they would like to pass on to the youths, some of whom may have aspirations to play professional sports, Marcell Dareus spoke of leading a healthy life.
“Just stay focused and stay healthy,” responded Dareus, a defensive lineman for the University of Alabama who was the No. 3 overall pick for the Buffalo Bills. “Stay active in some type of way even if you don’t play sports and you have a favorite team.”
Stevan Ridley, a third round draft pick of the New England Patriots, recalled having some guest speakers visit during his school years, but as an NFL representative, he looked forward to his meeting with the kids.
“Anytime you can give back to the kids and put a smile on their faces, that’s all we’d like to do,” Ridley said.
Dareus was joined by Mikel Leshoure in a visit to the fourth grade classroom of teacher Virginia Ripley, where they answered some prepared questions including, “How does it feel to be a rookie?”
“Basically it brings me back to my freshman year in college. I feel like a freshman all over again; I have to get my feet wet and get my name out there,” said Leshoure, a second round draft selection of the Detroit Lions.
The two players were also polled about their favorite players, who they looked up to when they were young, their favorite teachers in school and their favorite sports growing up. The students also wanted to know if being tackled hurts, to which Dareus replied, “I’m the tackler.”
Discussing his emotions when he learned he made it into the NFL, Leshoure delivered a message to the pupils that hard work can help them accomplish their goals.
“I was very excited when I made the decision to leave school and enter the NFL draft. It was something I dreamt about since I was your age,” Leshoure told the students.
“Hard work pays off; I’m a proven example of it and it’s something you guys can look forward to as far as accomplishing your dreams.”
Ripley said the athletes expressed confidence when speaking about achieving their goals.
“I knew it would be inspiring for some of our athletes and exciting for the kids to see professional athletes come to the school,” the teacher said.
Following the classroom sessions, the athletes made their way to the playground for some recreational time, tossing the football, jumping rope and hula hooping with the boys and girls.
Fourth-grader Monty McAlpine, who plays wide receiver for his football team, said he admires how hard the athletes worked to reach the NFL. After catching a pass from Leshoure, McAlpine was eager to rub the news in to his older brother, who plays running back in middle school.
“It’s really exciting; I get to brag about it to my brother,” he said.