BELTON — About 150 children ages 7-12 went through athletic drills for the Hometown Huddle at Crusader Stadium on Saturday morning.
“One of the core values of the United Way strategy is health,” said James Thurston, CEO of United Way Central Texas. “This is just one way we can bring the different partners in the community together.”
United Way has Hometown Huddles worldwide, to challenge children to be active, he said. UWCT, Titan Total Training of Temple and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Student United Way joined in producing the local event.
Jerrell Freeman, Chicago Bears linebacker and UMHB alumnus, helped coaches guide the children through 10 non-contact drills on the football field. Parents and friends watched from the stands.
“These are Texas kids,” Freeman said. “It feels good to come back here and give back.”
He previously worked with a similar NFL-related “Play 60” event when he was in Indianapolis, he said. As to how working with children compares to tackling NFL backs, he said, “Corralling kids is tough. It’s definitely got to be a group effort.”
On the sound system, Titan CEO Ike Shaw counted down the waning seconds, and told the children when to shift to the next activity. These included such things as pushups, plank, frog hops, shuffle, throwing the football and running around tackle dummies.
“I love hanging out with kids, encouraging them to get moving,” he said.
He usually works with groups of 20-30, he said, “not of this magnitude. It’s a lot to keep up with—all different sizes and ages.”
“You’ve got to encourage them the best way you can, give them high fives and a lot of smiles,” he said.
Thurston said the UMHB Student United Way came up with the idea of a local Hometown Huddle, and everybody got behind it.
Christopher Stroup, president of the UMHB Student United Way, said that in addition to the health aspect, this was a great way to introduce the children to college students, letting them know that higher education is an option. “We want to be encouraging, edifying and empowering them to do great,” he said.
Wesley Bailey, UMHB Student United Way chief of staff, said the students prepared all year for the event.
“We want kids to play at least 60 minutes every day, and it’s to tackle childhood obesity,” he said.