At just about any given time of day at Rogers Middle School in the St. Louis suburb of Affton, there’s a good chance you will find some of the town’s residents – be it adults, kids or pets – walking in circles.
It wasn’t so long ago that those residents didn’t really have a place to go to get their exercise in a safe, communal environment. Enter the Rams and the Play 60 program.
About a month ago, Rogers Middle School opened up a brand new walking track that carves its way through the school’s wooded campus. Since, it seems nearly everyone in the community has taken advantage of the scenic path.
Kathy Beezley, the school’s nurse and point person for its Fuel Up to Play 60 efforts, said the track has been magnetic for anyone looking to get out for some exercise.
“Since the track has been built, I have walked every morning before school at 6:40,” Beezley said. “Many times either teachers or students will walk with me. Our science classes have been out using the track and often a teacher will just take their students out to walk for the exercise. The community response has been great. In the evening and even during school hours neighbors will be walking with or without their pets. It has turned out to be an ideal experience for all of us.”
That ideal experience was born out of an idea that Beezley, her co workers and her students developed many months ago in conjunction with the Rams and the Play 60 program, which encourages kids to stay active by playing at least an hour every day and eating healthy.
Each year, the NFL runs the Back to Football Friday program where all 32 teams welcome back the NFL season and students, teachers and administrators are encouraged to wear the gear of their local team.
Schools are asked to make submissions on their Play 60 ideas and along with it, what they would do if they were to win the $10,000 grant prize and school visit from their local team.
Beezley took the reins of Rogers’ Play 60 efforts last summer and immediately went to work on getting the school involved in the initiatives.
“I love the message that Play 60 gives to our kids,” Beezley said. “Being active for 60 minutes per day is important, and since I work at a middle school, anything involving games is fun. So we decided to celebrate the Rams and the return of football for the fall.”
The school had a competition with a football toss, trivia and other games. Math teachers used football stats in lessons; physical education classes played football and art classes made Rams mobiles. The winning teams received medals and football-related prizes.
Along the way, Beezley, principal Jeff Remelius and others formulated the idea for the group’s pitch to win the visit from the Rams and the $10,000 grant. They decided that a walking path around the school would be the ideal use of the money since it would provide an option for the kids as well as the community.
“He said that he would like somewhere for our kids and the community to walk,” Beezley said. “We discussed the possibilities and decided on a trail. We have a beautiful campus but no track or walking path. Eventually, I would like to put "fitness stations" along the trail for our kids and the community to utilize.”
Soon after the NFL narrowed the entries down to a final three, the Rams selected the proposal from Rogers and sent middle linebacker
The excitement at the school was clear the day Beezley found out they won but went to a different level on Nov. 15, the day Laurinaitis – who brought his father Joe, a former professional wrestler with him – arrived.
“When James and his father came the kids were so energized and excited, they went crazy with applause and yelling,” Beezley said. “I have never seen the kids the way they were that day. They were so proud to be students here at Rogers and I was proud of them. They were respectful and polite and excited to be chosen by the Rams and the NFL, and they were so pumped. The cheers and excitement were contagious. It was such an inspirational day.”
Laurinaitis and his father emphasized the importance of getting outside and playing 60 minutes a day as well as providing guidance on how to eat healthy.
After the speaking portion of the day, Laurinaitis and his father put the kids through a series of drills and exercises including everything from light weights to hula hoops.
“The kids were obviously excited and it was a great moment to be able to be a part of that,” Laurinaitis said. “It was just a cool experience.”
Although the visit lasted just a day, Beezley said it’s something none of the kids or the school will forget anytime soon.
“I was very humbled by the fact that James and his father took the time to come and talk to my kids,” Beezley said. “The message they gave about eating healthy and exercise reinforced what I tell them. I feel very honored that we were chosen by the NFL and the Rams as a Super School.”
And though that visit may have just been 24 hours, the now completed track stands to serve as a constant reminder of not only that day but the work put in by Beezley and a group of special kids at Rogers Middle School for many years.
“Winning the contest was such an overwhelming experience,” Beezley said. “I now feel as if we are part of the Rams family. Meeting Rams personnel and being a part of this experience has been amazing. I hope and pray that the Play 60 campaign will remain steadfast and that football and the NFL will continue their commitment to helping our kids. Children need mentors and James is such an inspiring example of not only someone living a healthy lifestyle but a good person who cares enough about others to make a difference in their lives.”