The cheers started as soon as Daryl Washington stepped out of the black SUV.
They didn’t stop all morning at Spitalny Elementary School in Phoenix.
Washington spent 90 minutes with about 40 fourth- and fifth-graders Tuesday as part of the NFL’s Play 60 program, leading them through a series of stations that included sit-ups and pushups, sprinting with a football, weightlifting and running through cones with a ball.
In addition to Washington’s presence, Spitalny received a $10,000 grant from the NFL PLAY 60 Super School contest to help the school promote health and wellness programming, and buy new equipment.
“When they get that money it’s going to be able to change a lot of things,” Washington said. “They’re going to be able to have their own equipment.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s going to turn out.”
Washington was greeted with a school-wide assembly where he spoke about the importance of being healthy and active. Spitalny principal Dr. Rachel Saunders, Dr. Jacob Chavez, superintendent of Cartwright School District and Susan Anable, the vice president of public affairs for the Southwest region of Cox Communications also spoke.
Then five students asked the third-year Cardinals’ linebacker questions about how long he worked out every day, what he’d do if he didn’t play football, what his favorite school subject was, what’s the best part of being a Cardinal and what foods does he eat to stay healthy.
“I think the kids got a lot of out of it,” Washington said. “Hopefully they did. Hopefully they learned something and understand that health and being active and being outside and just having fun, having a good time (is important). These kids will remember it, and I’m sure they will, and remember me and I’ll remember these kids and hopefully I continue to keep doing this.
“I got a lot of out of it, a lot of inspiration out of it. Just glad to be out here and to be passionate about something that, you see these kids, they’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives and that’s something that’s going to really sink deep down in my heart. I’m going to remember it forever as well.”
Saunders said the grant will be spent on equipment and after school activities, which have been decimated because of budget cuts. A lack of equipment will also be revitalized with the grant.
Saunders watched as her students cheered on Washington, Big Red and two Cardinals Cheerleaders with the same passion as those in the stands at University of Phoenix Stadium.
They were led in cheers by their teachers and had a chance to meet Washington and Big Red.
But they were also exposed to seeing what hard work can produce by watching Washington in his red home Cardinals’ jersey. And Saunders hopes that will have a lasting impact on her students.
“It’s just an amazing event for our kids,” Saunders said. “Just the exposure to the NFL and to say, ‘Hey if you want to achieve goals and set goals and just work hard and you can attain those goals.’
“I think the kids really get the excitement and the enjoyment of just really seeing, ‘Hey we can do this, we can set our goals and go for it.’ It’s just an amazing, exciting experience for our kids.”