By Mr. Matt Decker (Leonard Wood)July 6, 2017
Hundreds of area children jumped, ran and cheered Friday alongside Kansas City Chiefs cheerleaders, former players, mascot K.C. Wolf and local volunteers, as Fort Leonard Wood held an NFL Play 60 event at Davidson Fitness Center.
"I liked playing the football challenge, and I got a hug from the (wolf)," said Brenden Marincell, 8, as he waited in line at an activity station.
Play 60 is the NFL's campaign to encourage children to get 60 minutes of activity per day. Andrew Smitka, manager of Youth Outreach for the Chiefs, said Friday's appearance was part of the team's Caravan Series, which serves communities on military installations.
"Obviously, it's a huge pillar of our outreach, and it's incredibly important to us," Smitka said. "These service members are dedicated to our country, so it's an honor for us to be involved and help support them."
The event began with a stretching and warm-up session led by Jamal Verdell, Fort Leonard Wood Youth Sports director, and volunteers with the 364th Training Squadron, Air Force Det. 1, who also registered participants and helped set up and break down the event.
"We have 35 Air Force volunteers out here today, and we're fired up to be here," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Barnum, who coordinated the volunteers.
Young participants completed stretches, lunges, leg lifts, push-ups and other exercises prior to the arrival of the team.
The focus on fitness and participation was welcomed by Col. Tracy Lanier, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander, one of several of the post's senior leaders in attendance.
"This is a great event," Lanier said. "Youth sports is one of my priorities, because it builds a team concept for a lifetime. Partnering with NFL Play 60 and bringing these sports to these young athletes definitely fits into that."
The NFL Play 60 session was designed for children ages 7 to 14, but was open to all ages.
Tamara Lockard, brought her daughter, Kaylee, 4, to the event to take part in the activities and to see the team personnel.
"We're from Kansas City, but we're stationed here," Lockard said. "I'm a diehard Chiefs fan."
Anna Caudill brought her son, Jaxon, 9, who was excited about participating in the event.
"We're sports fans and sports lovers -- we play sports year-round, and like to stay active," she said.
Smitka, members of the Chiefs cheerleading squad and former linebackers Shawn Barber, who played for the Chiefs from 2002 to 2005, and Gary Spani, who played from 1978 to 1986, welcomed participants.
"We are so honored and glad to be here with you," Barber told the crowd.
Spani, who for several years held the team record with 999 career tackles, said the team does as much as it can to support military communities in and around the Kansas City area.
"Football has been a great sport for me, personally, so I think it's all about -- well, it's even more than to give back," he said. "It's to teach these young guys and girls about the sport of football, because football really teaches you more about life than it does about the sport itself."
Originally scheduled outdoors at Gerlach Field, the event was moved indoors to Davidson Fitness Center due to inclement weather early Friday.