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Ravens kicker supports youth health initiatives at Sandymount

SANDYMOUNT - Not many people have the chance to compete against an NFL player. Fewer still have the opportunity to face off against a Super Bowl champion in an elementary school game of kickball.

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker gave students at Sandymount Elementary that chance Friday when he stopped by for the school's field day to celebrate the students' achievements in staying active and eating healthy.

The event was brought together by the NFL's Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign, encouraging schools to host healthy eating and active lifestyle events throughout the year. Schools that successfully pull off the required events, including a kickoff, breakfast programs and a wellness investigation, are deemed to be Touchdown Schools and are entered into a drawing to receive a player appearance.

During his speech, Tucker emphasized the importance of eating breakfast, playing outside for 60 minutes a day and eating from each of the food groups.

"It's all about getting the kids motivated," Tucker said. "You feel better when you're eating right and you're running around. It's good to get the kids at a young age, between kindergarten and fifth grade. It's great to plant the seed and let them take control of their own health."

Students had the opportunity to ask Tucker questions, including what his favorite game day breakfast was - waffles, eggs and bacon - who his inspirations were - Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri - and how he dealt with missing a kick - by focusing on the thousands of kicks he has successfully completed.

After the brief presentation, Tucker and the students moved outside for field day activities, with 19 play stations following all of the units covered in physical education class throughout the year.

During the field day, Tucker bounced between stations, playing baseball, handball and facing off against students with the sumo ball, a large inflatable ball where people bounce off the sides.

Craig Hardsock, a second-grade student from Westminster, competed one-on-one against Tucker at lacrosse. With a quick dodge to the right, Hardsock bypassed the Super Bowl champ and scored a goal. Craig said he is a big fan of Tucker, and the Ravens are his favorite team.

Matthew Kendig, a fifth-grade student from Reisterstown, got to high five Tucker while wearing his Justin Tucker jersey. He said he was very excited when they announced Tucker was at the school and would be playing with the students.

"He's my absolute favorite Ravens player," Matthew said. "I play soccer, so I like to watch him kick. He's really good at kicking."

Vinny Arthur, a fifth-grade student from Manchester, is one of the Play 60 ambassadors - a group of students who took charge of the program and filled out nutrition and activity logs online. Next week, Vinny, along with nine other ambassadors and committee members, will head to M&T Bank Stadium to compete in punt, pass and kick competitions on the Ravens field as a reward for completing the program.

"It's really exciting. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually see a Ravens player in person," Vinny said. "I can't wait to go down."

Physical education teacher Bill Vandegrift said he wishes they could take all of the students to the stadium, but they were limited to 10. He said Play 60 lines up perfectly with the goals of physical education.

"We make sure the students have as much activity time as possible, and we try to cover all of the sports to provide an all-encompassing year," Vandegrift said. "We want to create life-long learners and are trying to get everybody to be healthy."

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