With the Ravens scheduled to play in New Orleans in Super Bowl XLVII next Sunday, a pair of Towson schools are feeling an extra connection to their football heroes who are one step away from an NFL championship.
In late November, Ravens players and cheerleaders attended a raucous rally at the team's 2012 Play60 Super School, Stoneleigh Elementary.
A year earlier, students at Immaculate Heart of Mary School were treated to the same experience.
"I remember the day like it was yesterday, running down the hall to get Ray Rice water." Madison Williams, an eighth-grader and student council president at IHM, said. "When he awarded our school the $10,000 check, participated in the workout, signed the jerseys. We'd always talk about how Ray Rice came to our school."
Each fall, the NFL Play60 program, which encourages young fans to stay fit with at least an hour of exercise each day, selects one school in each team's market as the Play60 Super School for that school's dedication to the Ravens and their physical fitness. Each school was given a $10,000 for physical fitness supplies and activities, and hosted a handful of football stars for an assembly on healthy eating and exercise.
Students at both schools said that the shared experience, both with the players and with each other, have enhanced their excitement about the upcoming Super Bowl.
IHM was chosen last year as a Super School for Play60 for its dedication to both the Ravens and the community. Rice was joined by wide receiver Torrey Smith, former running back Ricky Williams and several other teammates at the event in November 2011.
But even though they've already been rewarded for their service — which was part of the reason they were honored last year — the IHM community hasn't stopped using their Ravens spirit to serve those around them. Every Friday, students donate money to charity in order to participate in Purple Friday. This year's beneficiaries include Beans and Bread, Marian House and a breast cancer charity.
"I think that how the money goes to a special place is very important to the community," Madison, a Towson resident, said.
But just as important as the school's charitable connection to the Ravens is the personal one the students made.
Frankie Tumminello, a Loch Raven Village resident who is vice president of the student council, said he took enjoyment from telling his neighborhood friends about the visit.
"When I told my friends in the neighborhood that Ray Rice came, they were like, "Are you kidding me?' " Frankie said. "They love the Ravens."
Madison delighted from recounting the stories to her rec sports teammates as well.
For this year's Play60 winners at Stoneleigh, the memory of Rice and his teammates imploring them to scream even louder is a bit fresher. They didn't have much to cheer about in the immediate aftermath of the visit — the team lost three straight to Pittsburgh, Washington and Denver in a stretch that made the Super Bowl look like a pipe dream.
But as he watches the games at home, first-grader Oliver Homnall can still feel the excitement of that day.
Brianne Canavan, 6, is one of the most dedicated participants in the school's Purple Fridays. She wore a replica cheerleader outfit to the Play60 assembly, and still fondly remembers Principal Christine Warner leading the players to a screaming audience in the gym.
The lead-up to the Super Bowl will likely be even more special for the two schools.
Each year, IHM Principal Deborah Thomas said the Friday before the Super Bowl is a day where students and staff can wear the colors of any football team they choose.
This year's edition may be the toughest for the staff's one Steelers fan to handle: it will likely be the biggest Purple Friday yet.