Monday, November 17, 2008

Whitner goes to school

Contest leads Bills safety to Niagara Catholic

By Mark Gaughan

Niagara Catholic freshman Adam Winkworth broke a bone in his foot in the first game of his school’s varsity soccer season this fall.

That will not be what he remembers most about his first semester of high school; not after Tuesday, when he drove to school in a limousine along with Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner.

Winkworth, a 13-year-old from Youngstown, was one of 34 youths nationwide who won a random drawing in the “NFL Take a Player to School” Contest, sponsored by the league and JCPenney.

Whitner showed up at Winkworth’s house at 7:30 a. m., took him to school in style, addressed an assembly in the gym, then took the lead in running Winkworth’s gym class during the first period of the school day.

“How many people here play video games?” Whitner asked the Niagara Catholic students as he stepped to the microphone.

When every student’s hand shot in the air, it gave Whitner his opportunity to launch into his message about a campaign called “Play 60.”

“I play video games, too,” Whitner said.

“But video games are contributing to a lot of people being out of shape, not really knowing how to stay healthy, how to eat right, how to stay fit.

“Play 60 is a program just telling you to do anything active for 60 minutes a day just to stay healthy. Whether you like to dance, whether you like to fish, play basketball, run, lift weights, whatever you like to do, you have to do it for 60 minutes over the course of the day, because if you don’t our generation and the next generation will be very unfit and very unhealthy.”

Whitner has been incorporating the “get active” message into many of his public appearances since April, when he participated with other NFL stars in an event that drew about 1,000 school children.

“When I was in junior high, people liked to come and take a break from class and run around in the gym,” Whitner said after his speech. “Nowadays, it seems like some people feel like they’re too cool to sweat a little bit in the middle of the day in high school.

“We’re trying to get kids off the couch from playing all those video games and being obese. There’s a lot of kids who are obese right now. The numbers are staggering. It’s crazy.”

Over the past three decades, the obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As you’re playing the video games, you might be eating cupcakes or chips or pop,” Whitner said. “You’re not running around burning those calories off. You accumulate for weeks and weeks and weeks of doing that, and you start to pick up weight.”

Whitner isn’t trying to get youths to give up video games, just to embrace exercise.

“If you want to live a healthy life,” Whitner told the assembly, “staying in shape, staying active and staying focused has a positive effect on the way you look, how your peers look at you, on the way that you feel about yourself, on how you feel when you get out of the bed in the morning. I ask you guys to just try to stay active for at least 60 minutes a day, and I promise you it will pay off in the long run.”

Whitner told the students he keeps himself on a strict diet year round.

“I try to stay away from a lot of carbs during the offseason,” he said. “Carbs are your breads and pastas and all those things that put weight on you. You don’t want many carbs when you’re not working out a lot. . . . I eat a lot of baked chicken, no fried food, a lot of vegetables. I thought I loved broccoli, but my chef brought me something new, broccolini. I love broccolini.”

Before the limo ride, Winkworth showed Whitner his bedroom, where the walls are lined with more than 600 pictures from magazines of sports stars, including Whitner.

One reason Winkworth likes Whitner, ironically, is a video game.

“He’s really good,” Winkworth said. “I play him in Madden. I use him blitzing. You can tell he stands out on the team.”

The 6-foot Winkworth, however, is no couch potato. He plays travel soccer and basketball. His injured foot will be healed in time for him to try out for the Niagara Catholic basketball team in a few weeks.

“This was cool,” Winkworth said. “Even though I didn’t get to participate (in gym class), it was cool just being a part of it. There’s something bigger than the injury now.”

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