A packed, noisy gym of J.B. Martin Middle School students celebrated the arrival of the New Orleans Saints’ Thomas Morstead, offering a thunderous ovation of appreciation as he ran in through a lineup of cheerleaders by an entrance tunnel.
The longtime Saints punter was a special guest of the Paradis school as it hosted this year’s annual NFL Fuel Up to Play 60 event and celebrated the announcement of a hometown grant for the St. Charles Public School System.
Through its Fuel Up to Play 60 program, the NFL supplies hometown grants to support school districts and individual schools facilitate sustained physical activity and healthy eating improvements. This year, it provided $10,000 per NFL club market. The Saints organization chose St. Charles Parish as the grant beneficiary for 2017. It is required that half is used on Child Nutrition and the other half used on Physical Activity and Wellness.
The parish can decide to use the whole amount at one school or throughout the parish.
Morstead spoke at the event and answered the students’ questions, with topics ranging from how he is able to maintain the physical fitness necessary to thrive as a professional athlete to how he is able to balance his career and travel with his daily family life and also to how he’s able to tune out negativity when things aren’t going well on the field in a given season.
“He did a great job really connecting with the kids,” said Teresa Brown, Director of Child Nutrition for St. Charles Public Schools. “He’s a great leader and example to follow for the students of J.B. Martin. The whole gym was lit up when he arrived. It was very noisy, but in a great way, with excitement. I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.”
The NFL Play 60 campaign is ultimately designed to curtail childhood obesity by encouraging children to adopt active lives, and approximately 40 students were able to participate in athletic events with the Saints crew — including Morstead — in attendance.
Morstead began his career with the Saints in 2009 and has established himself as one of the NFL’s top punters and kickoff specialists since that time. He is perhaps best known for executing a successful onside kick to begin the second half of the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV victory over the Indianapolis Colts, a play that is often credited with swinging momentum to the Saints’ side for good on that day.
Brown selected J.B. Martin to host this year’s Fuel Up to Play 60 event and as a primary grant beneficiary in large part because of the growth it’s shown breakfast participation among students.
A goal of the school district’s child nutrition initiative has been to expand breakfast participation district wide, which it has over the past two years by 20 percent. At J.B. Martin, that number is even larger at 35 percent.
“We’ve expanded every site, but we selected J.B. Martin because there’s huge growth there,” Brown said. “I felt like it would be a great place to host and receive the grant.”
$5,000 of the grant will benefit J.B. Martin and will be used as the school chooses. The rest, Brown said, will be used to continue to expand and improve the child nutrition program through equipment upgrades.
She added that students are consistently surveyed to learn what they’d like served for breakfast and lunch and that the school district listens, creating a collaborative effort to optimize what’s served on those weekly menus.
“We know how important it is to sustain them throughout the day and for them to be ready to learn each day,” she said.