Retired NFL player Newman visits school for its success in Fuel Up to Play fitness program

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Oak Hills Elementary student Rachel Willins flings soaked sponges over her head during the school's field day.Former National Football League player Anthony Newman freely admits that physical fitness and nutrition face fierce competition for kids’ attention these days.

“Today’s world is all about technology, where you sit on the couch with your PlayStation,” he observed with a grin.

Based on the mass of energy and physical activity on display Tuesday afternoon on the Oak Hills Elementary School playground, however, many students remember the kind of play that embraces movement and exertion.

“This tells you how good this school is at being a good leader, getting the whole staff and community involved in eating right and physical fitness,” Newman noted.

A 1984 Beaverton High School graduate and retired NFL defensive back, Newman dropped by Oak Hills Elementary’s annual field day event to interact with students participating in 23 activity TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Oak Hills Elementary student Kayla Nelson holds steady to move a ball along, as her teammates frantically race to continue the path in front of it. The exercise was part of the school's annual field day.

His visit was prompted by the school achieving Touchdown status in the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. Sponsored by the National Dairy Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and managed by the Oregon Dairy Council, Fuel Up to Play promotes a focus on physical fitness and nutrition among students. As the only school in Oregon to achieve Touchdown status, Oak Hills is recognized for having a dedicated program adviser in Jennifer Hiatt and promoting wellness-oriented projects, such as nutrient-rich “smoothie” days and a walking club. Students track their dedication to healthy eating and exercise behaviors on the Fuel Up to Play dashboard.

Crista Hawkins, manager of the program through the Portland-based Oregon Dairy Council, said Fuel Up is making a difference at the 637 Oregon schools that participate, including Oak Hills, McKay Elementary and others in the Beaverton district.

“It’s a youth empowerment project that encourages students to eat healthy and be physically active,” she explained on the Oak Hills grounds on a brilliantly sunny afternoon. “Oak Hills has been amazing. In the last three years, with the help of grant funding, they’ve really focused on healthy eating — offering nutritious smoothies and a walking club.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Former NFL player Anthony Newman high-fives Oak Hills Elementary student Ben Johnson after his team scores a goal in a beanbag sling during the school's field day.

She praised Hiatt’s role in making fitness and nutrition fun and engaging for students.

“She’s been a role model for the state,” Hawkins said. “Jen’s passion has been amazing in encouraging students to eat healthy meals, lunches with all the important food groups so they’re ready to learn.”

For his role as the school’s healthy ambassador, Oak Hills fifth-grader Rylen Hermo was invited by Newman to attend the Fuel Up to Play 60 summit held July 14-17 in Dallas, Texas. Taking a brief break from the frenzied activities of field day, the 11-year-old feels honored to represent his fellow students.

“I think it’s pretty cool to be the first in Oregon to go to the summit,” he said, explaining how he reached his ambassador status. “You’re on a team and do stuff to earn awards. Whoever does best ends up as the state student.”

Getting to meet and engage with Newman made this year’s field day even more fun than usual.

“It’s pretty neat,” he said. “We get to play fun games. It’s always different every year.”

Newman, 48, who played for the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders from the late 1980s through the ’90s, said he enjoys taking part in his Sports Camps for Kids Program and visiting schools such as Oak Hills.

“I get to visit two schools per month,” said Newman, who got beat in a tug-of-war game with 12 Oak Hills students on the other end of the rope. “I get involved in what they do. It’s about getting kids outside to exercise. A lot of physical fitness instruction has been taken away in schools. This program has been a great partner for years.”

Oak Hills fourth-grader Nate Yamashiro said he finds Fuel Up to Play 60 and the annual field day among his favorite school-related activities.

“Because instead of staying inside and not doing anything besides recess, you get a whole day to be outside,” he observed.

The 10-year-old, whose favorite sport is baseball, noted the program will influence how he and his fellow students will spend time this summer when school is out of session.

“Without physical fitness, you watch TV all day and you’re not really doing anything,” he said. “You just become this big, fat guy.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Oak Hills students race with tires as a team during the school's annual field day.

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