Super Bowl fever hit the New York City area this week, and it afflicted one middle school in Washington Heights particularly hard.
Middle School 328 on 164th Street in Manhattan, which is about 90 percent Latino, was selected by the NFL to have its students participate in the Play 60 Character Camp and Healthy Cooking Demo held Tuesday evening in a large tent erected along the Hudson River.
On a small football field, coaches taught 6th, 7th and 8th graders American football fundamentals, with Hall of Fame lineman Anthony Muñoz on hand to talk to them about the importance of hard work and exercise – and to squat down to demonstrate proper blocking technique, too.
“This is so much fun,” Muñoz, 55, told Fox News Latino. “It’s important that kids stay active, and football –the best team sport in the world – is a great way to do it.”
As a Latino pioneer in the game, Muñoz is gratified to see more and more Hispanics in the pro football ranks. “I’ve always been proud of my heritage, and it’s great to see more and more Latino names on the back of the jerseys. And they aren’t all kickers, they’re linemen like the Broncos’ Louis Vasquez and Manny Ramirez.”
Muñoz, a 6-foot-6 man with a ridiculously bright smile, shows no sign of cognitive trouble, but does he worry about the problems other NFL linemen have had as a result of concussions?
“I’m always concerned,” he said. “I strapped on the pads every day for 20-plus years. But the rule changes the NFL enacted are helping. I think so.”
After a break, the Food Network chef and restaurateur of Mestizo in Kansas City, Aarón Sanchez, gave a demonstration of how to cook healthy Latin food – in this case, pozole with vegetables and albondigas in tomato sauce (with an assist from Muñoz, who rolled up the meatballs).
“I want you to go home,” Sanchez told the students, “and ask your mom or dad, ‘Hey, why don’t we make grandma’s meatball recipe with some of the tips I learned?’”
Sanchez, a Mexican-American from El Paso and a New Orleans Saints fan, has been involved with the NFL’s outreach programs for about five years. “Football is a truly American sport that transcends cultural boundaries,” he told Fox News Latino.
“It’s amazing the level of food knowledge the kids I meet at these events,” he said. “At the last one I did, this 8 or 9 year old kid calls me over. He points at his dish and says, ‘Did you put cilantro in that?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He nods and says, ‘Nice touch, chef.’”
The event, like the Play 60 program, had two objectives, to help kids stay physically fit and to teach them about nutrition. Their school was selected, in part, for its program to bring healthy breakfasts to the classroom, according to Peter O’Reilly, vice president of marketing for the NFL.
The kids certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. Charlin Guerrero, 13, eagerly demonstrated the technique she had been shown in running a pass route. The long fuschia nails on her hand suggested that maybe it wasn’t something she was very accustomed to doing. It’s true, she admitted: “I’m more interested in dance.”
Joshua Vasquez, 14, an 8th grader whose family is from Ecuador, took a hike and avoided a tackler with gusto. Generally he prefers basketball to football and dreams of playing in the NBA. Even so, he said, “This is a great experience.”
His teammate on the school’s hoops squad and fellow 8th grader, Jeancarlos Castellanos, described it as “fun.” Then he went out and won the designation of fastest person at the event. He stumbled at the end of the race and limped a little, which seemed to concern his coach and math teacher, Paul Baboulis.
“Nah, I’m all right,” Castellanos answered laughing when asked if he had hurt himself.
“The NFL is committed year-round to Hispanic outreach and to keeping kids active and healthy,” the NFL's O’Reilly said, pointing out that this is the 14th Play 60 event held at league events like the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft.
“We’ve held them in all the major Hispanic markets,” he added, “and some that are less major too.”
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Bill Vourvoulias (@bvourvoulias) is an editor at Fox News Latino.