For the students at Rockwell School in Bristol, the Tuesday morning routine was anything but routine. No sooner had the students settled down in the school gymnasium did they erupt with the chants for what was about to come through the door.
“Patriots! Patriots! Patriots!”
For a good 10 minutes, students and teachers alike, most wearing Patriots jerseys, some wearing helmets, others with red, white and blue face paint, kept up the chant. It was only until the school’s guests of honor, Patriots players, Ron Brace, Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, and Matthew Slater, burst through the gymnasium doorway, waving their hands high and bouncing into the enthusiastic crowd did the chanting stop and the screams began.
New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, made good on his promise to parent volunteer, JoAnne Waite, sending four of his players to the school where they spoke with the students about the importance of good health and physical exercise. And to help the school’s volunteer group to continue and enhance the fitness program, Matthew Slater presented a $10,000 check to school principal, Tara McAuliffe.
The grant and visit was the Patriots organization’s response to a grant application sent in by Ms. Waite on behalf of Rockwell School. Always looking for opportunities to add resources to the before school exercise program that she and other parent volunteers offer the students, Ms. Waite sent in a grant application to the National Football League’s Play 60 initiative.
In October, Mr. Kraft made a phone call to the school as he was in flight to London for a game. When the call came, Ms. McAuliffe was at a meeting. When she received the message, she was skeptical.
“I thought, ‘really?’,” she said of her initial reaction. “I thought it was someone trying to sell something.”
It wasn’t until she returned the call that her skepticism turned to belief.
“They’ve been super to work with,” Ms. McAuliffe said of the Patriots organization.
When the players arrived by luxury shuttle, they were ushered into the library where they signed items that can be used at a later date for fund-raising activities.
The players were led into the gym by team mascot, Pat the Patriot, where Ms. McAuliffe accepted the oversize presentation check. Then she and several students were able to ask questions of the players.
The students wondered what the professional football players liked when they were in school.
Mr. Brace said that he was “a recess all-star,” who played everything. Mr. Gostowski liked football, hockey, and “mostly baseball.”
“Any way you can get out and have fun with your friends is what I’d do,” the Patriots place-kicker said.
Mr. Mesko said that even during the winter he’d bundle up and go outside.
“I remember shooting hoops in my front yard, slipping on the ice,” he said.
Realizing the danger of falling, he added, “But don’t do that. Chip away the ice first.”
“I was heavy into basketball,” Mr. Brace said.
When he was a kid, it was obvious that he was active, always coming home with “ripped pants and dirty jeans.”
But it was Mr. Gostowski’s response that drew appreciation from Ms. McAuliffe.
“As long as you get all your homework done, encourage your parents to let you go out. Anytime you can stay active each day, it doesn’t have to be an hour a day, as long as your little bodies stay active,” he said.
Ms. McAuliffe gave a thumbs-up to “getting all your homework done.”
In addition to the visit and the grant award, the Patriots also recognized Ms. Waite for her role as a volunteer, organizer of the school’s fitness program, and for taking the initiative to contact the Patriots for the grant. She was named Patriots Difference Maker of the Week, for which she received a medallion and plaque to recognize her deeds.
After the presentation, 50 students who were randomly selected stayed behind to exercise with the players. Each ran the students through an exercise at one of the five stations set up in the gym and in corridors. The equipment used – footballs, cones, jumpropes and other items – were provided by te team and left for the school’s continued use.
Mr. Brace led his group through some stretching and lunges. After each set, he’d ask, “Feel the burn?”
The fit students chanted “no.”
“Then we’ll do more,” he said, switching legs to continue the workout.
The visit, which lasted nearly two hours was a thrill for the students and teachers.
“It’s really fun to play with a team from the NFL,” said fourth-grader Ben DiChiappari.
Ms. Waite couldn’t have been more satisfied with the outcome. The day before the Patriots were scheduled to arrive, she led a group of students through the early morning activities and recalled the events leading up to the grant award.
“I just submitted it to see what would happen,” she said of the application. “This is quite the fluke. If I got a hundred bucks I’d be happy,” she said.
As part of the Play 60 award, the Patriots gave the school 18 tickets to an upcoming home game. Students were asked to illustrate why they are the biggest Patriots fan. The projects that were presented were judged by school staff who selected nine students who won two tickets for the game.
Ms. McAuliffe said that some of the $10,000 will be used to renovate the school’s playground and add picnic tables so the whole community can benefit from their good fortune.