Sharks and Minnows elicited many smiles and a hearty competition during the 49ers Play 60 Ambassador event, as the sharks (aka youth!) staked their territory in the center of a basketball court, and their peers (aka the minnows!) moved from one end to the other, trying their best to avoid the bite, or tag of the sharks. The engaging game requires enthusiasm and energy to sprint, roll or glide past the sharks - the perfect Play 60 activity. This year's Ambassadors from Orchard Middle School in San Jose represent the NFL's Play 60 initiative to its fullest, exuding enjoyment through physical activity for sixty minutes a day to increase muscle strength, endurance, and overall health. While some youth may choose to integrate the Play 60 movement into their day by racing around the track, playing a game of baseball, or scoring goals on the soccer field, this year's group of ambassadors engages in these and other activities with their own unique twist. Miguel crosses the court in record speed with the assistance of his walker, while Michelle wheels her chair up the field, positioning herself perfectly to score a goal.
Orchard's special needs class of eleven students includes youth with a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities. Cerebral palsy, a tumor, nor muscular dystrophy are impediments for the staff at Orchard Middle School when creating adaptive activities for these youth. Rather, such conditions have merely motivated the staff and youth to prove that all individuals can incorporate sixty minutes of physical activity a day.
"We integrate physical activity into the class's schedule every day," said former teacher, now Director of Students with Orthopedic Impairments of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, Leslie Haverstock, "The kids have different gross motor skills goals, but we have found a way for each of them to walk, run, roll, lift, kick - you name it - at least once during the school day."
The youth did just that as their competitive nature came out against alumni Keena Turner, Guy McIntyre, and their classmates during sixty minutes of warm-ups and Sharks and Minnows—a class favorite. Though all take the game very seriously, the gym filled with smiles and laughter as the class-aids and students teamed up to tag the last of the minnows, one of whom was Jacque. Twelve year old Jacque has an inoperable tumor, yet regardless of the obstacles she has been dealt, she continues to persevere, inspire, and warm the hearts of those she meets.
"I love the 49ers and sports in general," expressed Jacque, who uses an iPad or text messaging as her primary sources of communication, "My favorite game is Sharks and Minnows, and I am excited we had the chance to teach it to Keena and Guy."
Though Jacque and several of her classmates have impaired speech, their emotions and thoughts are easily read through their expressions and signs of affection. The greatest of aspirations came from witnessing the camaraderie amongst the group, the compassion of the teachers and aides, and the sheer joy of a smile. Such excitement and joy is directly attributed to the NFL's Play 60 initiative of enjoying sixty minutes of physical activity a day while embracing a healthier, fitter lifestyle.
"It cannot be emphasized enough how important physical activity is, especially in the lives of our youth," stated Megan Wirth of 49ers Community Relations, "Whether it be running, playing a game like tag, or a variation of adaptive programing, it is essential that a platform for a healthy lifestyle be inclusive for all youth.".
Through recognizing Orchard's special needs class as the 49ers 2013 Play 60 Ambassadors, the 49ers hope to encourage others to build on that platform and to live a healthier lifestyle and motivate others to do so as well. To learn more about the NFL's Play 60 initiative, please visit: http://www.nfl.com/play60