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Spirit moves the Ravens to Immaculate Heart of Mary

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Students at Immaculate Heart of Mary School had little trouble showing their team spirit on Tuesday, Dec. 6, as Baltimore Ravens running backs Ray Rice and Ricky Williams, wide receivers Torrey Smith and Lee Evans and lineman Andre Gurode honored the school for its selection as an NFL Play 60 Super School.

"This is a very proud moment for all of us," Principal Amy Belz told students during the ceremony. "The seed was planted a long time ago by children who wanted to support the Ravens."

Immaculate Heart of Mary was one of 34 schools in the country — one for each NFL team and two at-large winners from areas without teams — to be named an NFL Play 60 Super School.

The designation recognizes schools that commit to physical fitness and living a healthy lifestyle, and comes with a $10,000 donation from the NFL to the winner schools.

Before the players arrived Tuesday morning, the school's student council officers — president Sarah Aviles, 13 of Parkville, vice president Caroline Cummings, 13 of Phoenix, treasurer Nick Torres, 12 of Parkville, and secretary Madison Williams, 13 of Towson — were shaking with excitement.

"With all the decorations around, there's no way to get your mind off it," Caroline said.

Rain held off long enough for the students to greet the players as they arrived in the parking lot, after which the students went to the gym while the Ravens met with the officers and Belz.

After a few moments of feverish anticipation, the players joined the screaming students in the gymnasium for a talk from Rice and Evans about physical fitness.

Evans, whose wife Miranda also spoke, said that in all of his years of involvement in the Play 60 program, Immaculate Heart of Mary was the most energetic — a statement that only served to stir the students more.

But while a visit from the Ravens would have been memorable enough, the school seized the opportunity to give a little something back to Rice.

Since 2009, students who make a 50-cent donation are allowed to wear Ravens gear on Fridays, with the proceeds going to a different local charity each time.

On Tuesday, the school presented Rice with the money raised from a one-time-only Purple Tuesday at the school — a $500 check to the Ray Rice Charitable Fund, which serves under-privileged children in Baltimore and Rice's hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y.

"We definitely wanted to give back, because they're giving so much to us," Sarah said. "I think it was a great idea."

In the past, proceeds from the school's Purple Friday fundraisers have been donated to Beans & Bread, Our Daily Bread soup kitchens, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

On top of the fundraising efforts each Friday, the centerpiece for the school's bid to be named the Ravens' Super School was an impressive aerial photo of more than 450 students in Ravens attire spelling out R-A-V-E-N-S on the school parking lot.

Caroline said that surprisingly, the teachers thought the students were pretty cooperative while parents tried to corral them for the picture.

"It was really exciting putting it together," Sarah said.

Joanne McShalley, the school's Home School Association president, was behind the picture, and was named the school's Super Parent for her efforts.

In addition to the NFL's $10,000 donation, Proctor and Gamble will donate $1,000 to the school in McShalley's name.

"I don't know if anyone ever dreamed that (winning the Play 60 award) would happen when we were standing in the parking lot shooting that picture," McShalley said, adding that on the night before the big visit, she felt like a "kid on Christmas Eve."

But to Sarah and the rest of the student council officers, it was clear that the energy surrounding the day was justified.

"Everyone can see how much our school spirit and Ravens' spirit affects the community," she said. "Everyone knows we earned it, and there's a lot of excitement for that."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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