If you’ve never been to a Carolina Panthers pep rally at a Fort Mill elementary school, you probably don’t know the meaning of the word “loud.”
The Panthers returned to Fort Mill on Tuesday, this time to visit Springfield Elementary, bringing with them mascot Sir Purr, a TopCats cheerleader, a game show and Panthers players Luke Kuechly, Steve Smith and Thomas Davis after the school was selected as the NFL’s Play 60 Super School.
Just 34 schools across the nation are named Super Schools each year and earn a pep rally, playtime modeled after an NFL workout and a grant. The NFL’s Play 60 program is meant to encourage healthy living and playing at least 60 minutes every day.
“I thought it was a joke because I thought for sure we would never win,” said fifth-grade teacher Krista Taylor, who applied for the Play 60 grant.
Before the pep rally, students weren’t told which players would join the celebration. Second graders Bridget McMillan and Luke Beauchamp said they were expecting lots of screaming and singing and maybe “a little of the Panthers people,” McMillan said.
“I would want to see the one named Luke (Kuechly) because he has the same name and he’s really good at football every day,” Beauchamp said.
The players and Sir Purr worked their way through a game show about healthy living habits that included physical challenges like running an obstacle course and getting teachers dressed in full football gear as quickly as possible.
There was a dance-off between first-grade teacher Nikki Letterhoss and Kuechly. Teammate Smith scrambled out into the audience to film Kuechly’s moves with a cell phone and threw his hat onto the stage at one point during Kuechly’s dance. Letterhoss won the dance-off, and Kuechly admitted afterward that his dancing was terrible.
Principal Peter Olinger got in on the act, too. In response to a question about how many push-ups students thought he could do, Olinger dropped to the floor and hammered out more than 60 of them as teachers and students cheered.
Events like this make a connection between fitness and learning and get kids enthusiastic about health and wellness, said technology teacher Audrey Cageao.
“It’s great for the kids to really challenge them into something,” she said.
The fun didn’t stop once the pep rally was over and the equipment packed away. Springfield now has $10,000 from the NFL and Time Warner Cable to spend on their physical education program.
Game show contestant and fifth grader Ashley Henkel said she couldn’t believe how much money the school received.
“Everyone’s going to be really excited and really happy about our new education,” she said.
As they waited for their turn to play on the NFL-style equipment, first graders Ryleigh Rhodes and Eva Arnautovic said they were amazed by how big Kuechly, Smith and Davis were in person because they look “like the size of mice” on television.
“They were definitely bigger than I’ve seen when I’ve been to the stadium because we’re so high up,” Rhodes said.
Both Arnautovic and Rhodes said they try to play for at least an hour every day.
With the national obesity rate at an all-time high, Davis said after the pep rally, such events are important to encourage children to stay active and fit.
“Get the kids out of the house, get them active, get them involved,” Davis said.
The linebacker gets his children to play by sending them outside, he said.
As first and second graders ran around him, making their way through agility drills, physical education teacher Jason Layman said he hopes the Play 60 event inspires his students to be more active.
“Today gives them another opportunity to see there’s more to do than just push-ups and sit-ups,” he said. “Anything they’re doing NFL-related is pretty cool for all of them.”