While young Bills fans might enjoy playing Madden 2008 as much as Bills safety Donte Whitner or wide receiver James Hardy, at least 150 of them won't be returning to their video game consoles anytime soon after a visit by the two Buffalo Bills players.
Whitner and Hardy visited Southside Elementary School in South Buffalo on Tuesday as part of the Buffalo Bills and United Way's 10th annual Hometown Huddle program. The players encouraged 150 students in Southside's after school program to put down their controllers and pick up their running shoes to get active, fit and healthy.
Whitner talked to students about balancing their time indoors and outdoors. He encouraged students to make healthier choices, such as eating more carrots and less candy. He stressed the importance of spending less time in front of the television and more time outside being active.
"Slice off half of that time and try to be active and do something," Whitner said.
Hardy challenged each student to exercise for at least 60 minutes each day. He said an active lifestyle, along with healthy eating, can lead to a long, healthy life.
According to Hardy, healthy living isn't the only benefit of staying active. He talked about the social impact of playing sports as being just as important. Hardy said interacting with peers is one of the main benefits of sports.
Whitner and Hardy demonstrated the new HOPSports system, a technology-driven training system loaned to the school's afternoon program by the United Way.
Kirk Alger of HOPSports led the students through basic balance exercises before introducing the HOPSports system. The system includes a virtual personal trainer that leads students through stretching and fitness exercises while playing motivational videos focused around exercise, healthy nutrition and good choices.
Alger said that many of the students he trains with the system don't even realize they are exercising because the program is so much fun.
"They don't have time to think," Alger said. "They follow along, but they're still getting the anti-smoking message or nutritional message while they're exercising at the same time."
Students eagerly watched as Hardy zig-zagged in and out of foam ladders placed on the ground. Following Hardy's example, the students made their own way through the ladders. After a minute or two, the entire gymnasium was abuzz, filled with movement, excitement, screams and the constant activity of motivated youngsters.
Patti Dixon, who runs Southside's after school program Monday through Thursday, said the excitement of her students Tuesday was "over the top" compared to most days.
"Normally they're not too keen on doing any type of physical activity, and they were all hyped up about it," she said.
Dixon plans on making the HOPSports system a part of the program's daily schedule, along with traditional academic, homework and enrichment segments.
Students Zack, 12, Shammond, 11, and Alyssa, 10, all enjoyed the karate martial arts segment of the program the most. Alyssa said the program encouraged her to meet new people.
Ashley, 11, and Lori, 10, said running through the foam ladders helped them understand the need to be more active. Lori said she enjoyed the segment because Whitner and Hardy "helped us with ones we didn't know."
Hardy said that willingness to help others grew from his own experience of being an active youth in the Boys and Girls Clubs around his hometown.
"I wanted to play each and every day after school," Hardy said. "I just tried to find a group of guys that was willing to come out here and have fun with me and I was able to do that. It helped me get where I've got so I definitely want to encourage other youths to definitely do it."