Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert are no strangers to the weight room, but they got a workout of a different sort on Friday when they helped to conduct a Play 60 Challenge assembly at Founder's Hall Middle School in McKeesport.
The sweat was dripping off of the Steelers offensive linemen when they finished, but they didn't mind because they know the benefits of hard work and physical activity and enjoy sharing that message with kids.
"It's about coming out here and interacting with the kids," said Pouncey. "That puts a smile on my face. It's great to get exercise and a good sweat going. Obesity is a big thing nowadays and these kids have been working hard. It's awesome to be here.
"I was always running around playing as a kid. My mom had to lock us in the house. Growing up there was a lot of football outside so that is what we did. I had fun working with the kids and hopefully they had fun with it."
The Play 60 Challenge is a program through the NFL where teams and the American Heart Association work together to encourage kids to be active for at least 60 minutes a day, as well as develop healthy eating habits.
"A lot of kids like to play video games, sit on the coach and watch TV," said Gilbert. "I think it's important to show them there is more out there for them and you have to have them stay healthy, stay active and eat right."
Four schools were chosen for the visits this year because the students completed the Play 60 Challenge, which included getting 60 minutes of exercise a day while charting their activity and what they eat.
At Founder's Hall Middle School the kids have to do 30 minutes of activity at school and another 30 minutes at home. The 125 students who logged the most minutes during the school year took part in the assembly.
"It's awesome," said Brian DeCecco, the seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher who implemented the program. "These guys put a lot of time in at work, with practice and everything. For them to come out here means a lot. We kept it a secret that they were coming and the kids were so excited to see them here."
Steelers' conditioning assistant Marcel Pastoor set up four stations, emphasizing activities the kids can do on their own while having fun and allowing the players to deliver a strong message.
"The players have been active their entire lives," said Pastoor. "If they can rub off on them and let them understand the importance of being active and fit, it's perfect."
The Play 60 Challenge has not only resulted in kids being healthier, but DeCecco has noticed a difference in the classroom.
"If they are active, healthy and feel good about themselves it tends to bring their scores up in the classroom, to help out with tests, grades, morale, everything," said DeCecco. "It definitely tends to go over into the classroom. They use it as a reward. I am happy. They participated and did well. All throughout the year I was asked by the kids if we could do this and that. And then when they see the Steelers players take time out of their schedule, it shows where it can get you if you put the time in and pay attention to the details. Kids look up to that."
The school received a $2,000 check from the Steelers for physical fitness equipment, money that will be used to continue to build their recently added weight room.
"Us coming out and showing support and being active is a key," said Gilbert. "As a young kid I always wanted to stay healthy and be involved. You want to do things to keep kids off the streets, keep them active and healthy.
"The way it's set up is tremendous. I am glad there is a program like this to help them. Why not come back and help them out. I want them to see where it got me and tell them every day how to live. It's a routine. I want them to be out there and get at it."