When Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, got a call from the White House in late May, he didn’t quite believe it at first.
“They asked if we wanted to bring some kids to take part in the White House Sports and Fitness Day, an event held on the White House lawn,” he said.
Partnership for Drug-Free NJ has always focused on alternatives such as sports to steer kids away from drugs, and this seemed like a good opportunity to help further the message for kids at St. Francis Academy in Union City.
“So we sent out an invitation to student athletes,” he said.
As a result, he and about 40 kids made the bus trip to Washington DC on May 30 to take part in an event designed to highlight the benefits of youth sports and encourage more youngsters to play at a time when participation nationwide has been on the decline.
Early in May, President Donald Trump proclaimed the month as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. The White House Sports and Fitness Day was an event to promote healthy and active lifestyles. The President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition was one of 13 organizations invited to take part.
“Involvement in both team and individual sports offers countless benefits to children, improving both their physical and mental well-being,” Trump said. “My administration is committed to investing in a healthier and stronger America.”
A once in a lifetime opportunity
The St. Francis students came from throughout Hudson County and got a chance to meet some of great names in professional sports such as New York Yankees Hall of Fame relief pitcher Mariano Rivera and football great Herschel Walker.
Other professional athletes included volleyball player Misty May-Treanor and Lou Ferrigno, the actor and bodybuilder who played The Hulk in the television series.
Students from St. Francis also got to meet President Trump. Many of the students said they were surprised and delighted by Trump’s commitment to physical fitness.
“It was amazing to be invited,” said student Madison Cortes. “This was every educational and special.”
Cortes said the students took part in a number of events such as football, baseball, volleyball, and track.
“This was about physical fitness and good health,” said Cortes, who aspires to become a plastic surgeon in the future and believes that the lessons learned at this event will help play a part in that career.
“I would like to see more kids play sports, and want them to be fit so I don’t have to treat them for injuries.” – Matthew Potter
Designed to develop healthy lifestyles
The President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition (PCSFN) engages, educates, and empowers all Americans to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition. Since 1956, the council has created and promoted programs and initiatives that motivate people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to be active and eat healthy.
During National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, people are asked to renew their commitment to living healthier and more active lifestyles, and acknowledge the positive difference that sports make in society. By setting time aside each day for these activities, people improve both mental health and overall quality of life.
In addition to the health benefits, the program aims through sports to build good character, and teach kids the value of teamwork, self-discipline, and leadership, according to the program promotional material.
In recent years America has seen a decline in youth sports participation, particularly among young girls and children from economically distressed areas.
“For this reason, in February, I signed an executive order regarding sports, fitness, and nutrition,” Trump said. “The order establishes a presidential council focused on the critical importance of sports in increasing the physical fitness and positive life outcomes of our nation’s youth. This council is charged with identifying ways to expand access to youth sports and ensuring American children from all zip codes can compete if they desire.”
For the Partnership for a Drug Free America, these activities also become a valuable alternative to drug use, Valente said.
The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a national nonprofit working to reduce substance abuse among adolescents, has been integrally involved in development of the White House plan.
“We want our youth to learn these valuable lessons while creating opportunities for a better future, for themselves, their families and the great communities that they love,” said Trump, speaking to the students on the White House Lawn. “To everyone here today, I say, work hard, get into the game, play to win, and most of all, have fun.”
Students were amazed and delighted
Balentina Weil, 13, from Jersey City, said they really got involved with the physical aspect of the day.
“I couldn’t believe we were outside on the White House lawn,” she said. “They really showed what it means to be physically fit.”
She and others played volleyball on the lawn and other activities on the lawn.
“We met Herschel Walker,” she said, noting that she also wants to pursue a career in medicine as a surgeon and believes that the lessons learned would help her.
“I play basketball,” she said. “Sometimes you get thrown into a game. So, you have to be physically fit.”
The Partnership for a Drug Free American was one of 13 groups that participated in the event along with President Trump and Ivanka Trump, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
“I got to run with the surgeon general,” said Aidan Mancha, of Secaucus. “First we played football, and then we did relay races and track.”
Mancha said he learned how important athletics are to the country and how important it is to be physically fit.
Mancha envisions a legal career as a stepping stone to a career in politics.
“I want to become president of the United States,” he said, and was very pleased to have met the president at this event.
Matthew Potter of Hoboken was also pleased about meeting Trump and being allowed to take part in the event. He liked rubbing shoulders with Marino Rivera – arguably the best relief pitcher in the history of baseball.
“It’s good to see more kids get involved,” Potter said. “I didn’t know this was the president’s goal.”
Potter is looking ahead to a possible career in sports medicine.
“I would like to see more kids play sports, and want them to be fit so I don’t have to treat them for injuries,” Potter said.
Erik Perez, of West New York, couldn’t take part in any of the sporting activities because had broken a foot, and is still in recovery. But he wanted to take part in the trip, and was very pleased at meeting the sport stars.
Although he envisions a career as engineer or architect, he believes fitness plays a role in his ability to function.
“The students from St. Francis who went on this trip ranged in age from 8 to 14,” Valente said.
Students came from throughout Hudson County including Jersey City, West New York, North Bergen, Union City, Secaucus and elsewhere.
“This trip brought into focus the importance of being physically fit and making the right choices – healthy choices – at a young age. It is our mission to promote making healthy choice,” Valente said.
But even as an adult, Valente was very aware of how significant a moment this was.
“It was very surreal,” he said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.