By Matt Decker (Fort Wood Leisure/Sports editor)July 24, 2014
Hundreds of children ran, jumped, kicked and tackled their way to good health during NFL Play 60, held by the St. Louis Rams July 16 on Fort Leonard Wood's Gerlach Field. Designed for children ages 7 to 14 but open to all ages up to 18, the event let participants play at more than a dozen different activity stations from noon to 2 p.m.
"It's basically a two-hour free-for-all," explained Zach Kinkeade, an assistant with the Rams' Community Outreach and Player Involvement office, which holds up to four NFL Play 60 events each month. "The kids can go to any station as many times as they want. There's no set order. It's all about fun while being healthy -- but we strive to stress the fun."
Founded by the NFL in 2007, the Play 60 initiative is designed to fight childhood obesity by encouraging kids to be active for 60 minutes every day.
"We're really excited, because this is the first NFL Play 60 event we have done at Fort Leonard Wood," said Nicole Woodie, Rams Community Outreach and Player Involvement manager. "This is our first visit here, and this is the largest event we've done on any military post."
Events began with an opening ceremony that included stretching and warm-up exercises with the Rams employees. Participants also got to meet the St. Louis Rams cheerleaders and the team mascot, Rampage, who were introduced by Col. Andrew Herbst, Fort Leonard Wood garrison commander
"This is an outstanding opportunity to show you that it's important to do fitness every day. I'm looking forward to watching you go from station to station," Herbst told participants. "This is what we call 'controlled chaos' -- but it's going to be a lot of fun."
Many of the activities were the same events found at an NFL combine, Woodie said.
"We try to make this field day a little more football focused," she said. "We do the vertical jump, the long jump, broad jump, the 40 (yard dash), the shuttle run -- many of the things that our players are doing in their training or had to do when they got to the NFL."
For many of the young participants, the day was simply about trying out different stations and having fun.
"I just like everything," said Jason Clemmer, 9, after completing the shuttle-run station. "It's been fun."
For others, like 7-year-old Jalaia Ross, determining a favorite activity was an easy task.
"I like tackling!" Ross said as she got back in line after taking out a tackling dummy, catching a Nerf-style ball and throwing it back to a U.S. Marine Corps Detachment volunteer.
Ten-year-old Leander Corbett gave NFL Play 60 his seal of approval.
"It's been one of the top three things this summer," Corbett said, adding that in his opinion, the event was on par with "bowling and the pool" as far as his favorite summertime activities.
About 20 Marine Det. volunteers helped set up and run the Play 60 events. "We volunteered for the day, but when we came out here and saw all these St. Louis Rams trucks, we were all surprised," said Marine Pfc. Cristian Fuentes. "Being out here and helping out the younger kids, being part of this is a privilege for us."
Several parents also enjoyed the event. Sgt. Gwain Shells, 795th Military Police Battalion, accompanied his son, Demetrius, 8, and daughter, Somaya, 3, from station to station.
"They wanted to participate in something different, and I wanted to get them out of the house," Shells said. "They're having a great time. My daughter's participating in everything, and she's only 3. I think this is an excellent program. It gets kids active and motivated."
Woodie said the primary message NFL Play 60 strives to instill in children is that daily exercise and activity is important for everyone, and that "you don't have to be an athlete to be healthy."
"It doesn't mean you'll play 60 minutes and you have to be a football star or a basketball star and have to go to practice every day," she said. "You can get your 60 minutes anywhere, whether it's at school or at home, whether it's in a P.E. class, walking around the block, holding a 10-minute dance party with your friends, doing push-ups in your living room or just playing on the playground -- however you want to get that 60 minutes in, it's up to you."
During the opening ceremony, Woodie also talked briefly to participants about the importance of good nutrition.
"In partnership with (Play 60) is our Fuel-Up to Play 60 program, which encourages kids to make sure they're putting the right fuel in their bodies. We highlight eating healthy, eating and drinking low-fat dairy products, making sure they're eating their fruits and vegetables and making healthy choices so they can go out and play."
Woodie said holding the event at Fort Leonard Wood was not only the largest event at a military base, but also especially meaningful for the Rams employees who run the Play 60 program.
"We know that as military youth, and with parents who serve in the military, there are a lot of things that they go through compared to some of the kids we interact with who don't have parents who are deployed or who don't have that commitment to our country. So, this is really our way of saying we appreciate what you do, even as a kid, and of course we appreciate what your parents do. We want them to know that the Rams are cheering for them," Woodie said.
The event was doubly meaningful for Rams cheerleader Michelle Kolcun, who also serves her country as a captain in the 375th Medical Group Air Mobility wing at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
"As a military member, I can really appreciate what the Rams are doing for these military Families. It's a big deal for an NFL team to come out to military installations, to interact with the kids," said Kolcun, a former Air Force Academy cheerleader who is now in her second year with the Rams. "I wouldn't miss this event for anything, just because I know how important it is for us."