Katie Ellington/News Staff at Highland Elementary school accept a check for $25,000 from UnitedHealthcare’s PLAYMAKER program. From left to right are UnitedHealthcare of Ohio CEO Kurt Lewis, former OSU linebacker Anthony Schlegel, principal of Highland Elementary Shawn Winkelfoos, physical education teachers Heather Barbour and Danny McMurry, sports radio host Anthony Rothman and former OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter.
Katie Ellington/News
Staff at Highland Elementary school accept a check for $25,000 from UnitedHealthcare’s PLAYMAKER program. From left to right are UnitedHealthcare of Ohio CEO Kurt Lewis, former OSU linebacker Anthony Schlegel, principal of Highland Elementary Shawn Winkelfoos, physical education teachers Heather Barbour and Danny McMurry, sports radio host Anthony Rothman and former OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter.

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SPARTA — It may not be football season, but the energy rivaled that of a home game in the Horseshoe Stadium as two former college linebackers led Highland Elementary students in the OSU football team’s official pre-game ritual Thursday morning.

Former Ohio State and NFL linebackers Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel visited the school Thursday morning, along with sports radio talk show host Anthony Rothman and Kurt Lewis, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Ohio. The four men hosted an assembly at the school, where they encouraged kids to play outside and stay active and presented Highland Elementary with a check for $25,000.

The grant was provided through UnitedHealthcare’s PLAYMAKERS program, which partners with the Ohio State University and 97.1 The Fan to promote physical activity and active play in elementary schools throughout Ohio.

The program allows Ohio residents to register their local elementary school for a chance to win one of 12 $1,000 dollar grants. These grants are distributed once a week during the college football season. At the end of the season, each of the 12 schools are entered into a drawing to win the $25,000 grant.

“PLAYMAKERS is about providing money to elementary schools to help with physical education and healthy activities — things that lead to healthy habits,” said Lewis, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Ohio. “We understand that schools are trying to do more with less and that’s difficult. And that’s why we’re really excited to be here today.”

While teachers and staff were looking forward to how the grant will benefit the school, the students were reveling in the excitement of the moment as Carpenter and Schlegel taught proper push-up technique, officiated a combine drill relay race and encouraged students to get moving.

“Fitness is important,” said Carpenter. “It’s important to get off the couch and go be active.”

“How many of you guys like Lebron James? Seth Curry? Tom Brady?” Carpenter asked a roaring student body. “Those guys work out every day to be the very best they can. That’s important. … If you wanna be the best at anything, you’ve got to work at it.”

Afterwards, physical education teachers Heather Barbour and Danny McMurry announced how the money would be spent. Students were thrilled to learn that a new climbing wall will be installed on the far end of the gym.

“Their energy was incredible. It made all of us excited to be here,” said Lewis. “It was great to see the look on their faces when they got to see how the dollars they received are going to be used, especially the climbing wall.”

According to Barbour, the climbing wall will be 40 feet in length and 8 feet tall. Climbing will work students’ upper body strength and muscular endurance.

Since the surface is magnetic, Barbour and McMurry are already planning activities that will combine physical activity and language arts, such as having students retrieve matching vocabulary words and definitions that are hung on the wall.

“There’s a lot of different ways to use it,” said Barbour. “It’s a really neat opportunity to combine physical activity with learning.”

The rock wall costs less than half of the total funds received from the grant. The rest of the money will be used to purchase supplies including new gym mats, a class set of wristwatch heartbeat monitors, a combination tennis and volleyball net and new basketball hoops.

“Today’s an outstanding day for our students and staff,” said principal Shawn Winkelfoos. “We’re very thankful for the kind gift from UnitedHealthcare and (97.1) The Fan and for the Buckeyes for showing up today. We’re blessed that we have this opportunity to do what we can do for our kids.”

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Katie Ellington: 740-397-5333 or katie@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @kt_ellington