To promote a fitness program sponsored by the National Football League, Marlow Elementary School enlisted one of Effingham County’s own NFL alumni.
Dusty Zeigler helped Marlow kick off Fuel Up to Play 60, an initiative developed by the National Dairy Council and NFL. The program encourages students to eat nutritious foods and engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
Exercising and eating right helped Zeigler reach the NFL, he told students assembled in the Marlow Elementary gym. Zeigler was an offensive lineman at Effingham County High School, the University of Notre Dame and with the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.
“You guys need to understand, a healthy body goes with a healthy mind,” Zeigler said. “They depend on one another.”
Zeigler explained the fitness and diet regimen he maintained in his seven seasons as a pro football player. However, he told the children exercise was important to him well before then, when he was their age.
“When I would come home after school, I didn’t sit on the couch,” Zeigler said. “I wasn’t a couch potato. I’d go outside and play.”
He encouraged the MES students to do the same. Zeigler pointed out that Fuel Up to Play 60 doesn’t require children to play a certain game or be on a team — just to be active.
“You can walk your dog. You can walk around the neighborhood. You can ride your bike,” he said. “You can do a combination of those things. The important thing is just be active for 60 minutes a day, and that’ll help you be healthy.”
Children can sign up online for FUTP60 and log their physical activity to earn points. Some Marlow students already had joined the program prior to the school’s official kickoff.
The first to sign up was fourth-grader Paulus Zittrouer. He told his classmates he earned points through his baseball and football games and practices, but also simply by playing outside with his friends.
“I had stuff all the time,” he said, “and the weeks that I didn’t have stuff, when football was over and baseball was just getting started, I just went outside and ran around and did stuff.”
Zittrouer added an important caveat, though.
“But I couldn’t do any of that until homework was finished,” he said.
Marlow commits to be fit
All the students at the Fuel Up to Play 60 kickoff were members of Marlow Elementary’s fitness club. The club gets together before school, with different grade levels meeting on different mornings.
FUTP60 ties in with the fitness club and other initiatives at Marlow. Another was MES earning an award for three consecutive years for completing the Get Active, Get Fit challenge sponsored by Radio Disney.
Providing healthy meals to Marlow’s approximately 720 students also is a priority. The school serves an average of about 7,400 lunches and 4,000 breakfasts per month, according to principal Wallace Blackstock.
“Anybody who has ever experienced hunger for any amount of time knows that it’s difficult to concentrate on what you’re doing if you’re hungry,” Blackstock said. “And that active, fit lifestyle helps to de-stress any age level.”
FUTP60 participants are encouraged to make their school a healthier place. Students can share ideas to help their peers eat healthy and be active, and they can take challenges with classmates for chances to earn prizes.
“They really get excited,” said Julie Wilkinson, the manager of school health and wellness for the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association.
Marlow is not the first school in Effingham County to participate in FUTP60, Wilkinson said, though some schools are more active in it than others.
“If we have healthier students, we have better students,” Wilkinson said. “If we can get them excited about healthy eating and being physically active, they’re more likely to be healthier adults.”
The peer-to-peer encouragement among students is a strength of the program, Wilkinson explained, but the Marlow students had a different motivator for the FUTP60 kickoff. At 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, Zeigler was a commanding presence.
Zeigler let the students try on a football helmet he wore with the New York Giants. He also passed around the NFC championship ring he earned with the Giants from the 2000 season, but gave a disclaimer first.
“If I don’t get it back at the end of this period, I might have to tackle somebody,” Zeigler said, bringing laughter from the students.