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Falcons teach students about exercise
Team members visited Chestnut Mountain school for training session
Dominique Franks of the Atlanta Falcons signs his name on a jersey worn by Jonathan Williams at Chestnut Mountain Elementary School. Several members of the Atlanta Falcons visited the school for the Atlanta Falcons Gatorade Junior Training Camp. - photo by Tom Reed

For 364 days of the year, students at Chestnut Mountain Elementary are Warriors. Tuesday, however, they were Falcons.

The school hosted the Atlanta Falcons Gatorade Junior Training Camp through Hall County Schools' partnership with UnitedHealthcare.

After a dance warm-up and a pep talk with "Coach Chris" Millman, community relations and youth program manager for the Falcons, Chestnut Mountain fourth- and fifth-graders were divided into rotating groups and, for an hour, trained like the NFL.

"Every one of these stations is set up to mimic their training camp. They broke it down to the school level," said Jacob Weiers, school wellness coordinator for Hall County Schools.

Kids went through five stations: a quarterback toss, a running back agility trial, an obstacle course, a quarterback and wide receiver station, and a defensive back station.

They threw and caught passes, ran through a foot ladder and jumped into a mock end zone as if they'd scored a touchdown.

Students were coached by some of Atlanta's team — defensive tackles Carlton Powell and Peria Jerry, wide receiver Kerry Meier, safety Rafael Bush and corner backs Dominique Franks and Brent Grimes.

"They were thrilled," said Betsy Elrod, a physical education teacher at the school. "They couldn't believe they were going to be real players. They kept asking me, ‘Are they going to really be Falcons?' A lot of them went out last night and bought footballs and jerseys for them to sign."

Franks even snuck out with one fifth-grade group and went back to class for a few minutes.

"My favorite part was getting to meet all the players and learn how they train and be a part of it," said fifth-grader Peyton Satterfield, 10. "They want you to stay fit and play as much as you can."

Falcons fan Wesley Mattheisen, 10, also a fifth-grader, said he enjoyed the obstacle course station the most.

"Football is a really good sport to feel good about yourself," he said.

That was the main lesson Chestnut Mountain faculty and the team wanted students to learn.

"I would love to see them take away the idea that fitness and exercise is fun, that it's not a chore you should dread," Principal Sabrina May said. "If you start training young, when they're an adult they can have everyday fitness."

Meier said the team hears a lot about the Falcon spirit that grows during the week and comes to a head Sundays when the team takes the field. The camp is a way to give that spirit back to the community that supports them.

"At this age, there's kind of been a different upbringing," he said. "Being out here today and teaching kids a little about football, it benefits them. It shows them a different way of approaching a healthy lifestyle."

Kids learned other ways to stay healthy as well.

"There's this big push right now for health and fitness across the nation because obesity has been going up. Physical education has focused on fitness more than they ever have before," Elrod said.

The worst thing kids could do after the camp was to go home and drink a soda, Millman told kids after their session ended.

"They want to teach them to be properly hydrated," said Andrea Williamson-English, school nurse at Chestnut Mountain. "A lot of times when you're dehydrated you get the sense of hunger so you eat, and that's wrong."

This was the first time the Falcons had been to Chestnut Mountain, but the camp has been hosted before at Sardis Enrichment School, Sugar Hill Elementary and Gainesville Exploration Academy.

Another group of Falcons visited Eagle Ranch Tuesday to spend an afternoon hanging out with the kids there.

"They're learning basic football fundamentals, but this is not teaching X's and O's," Millman said. "This is about teaching kids that football is a great way to get exercise, to get away from the TV and video games."