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WEST CHESTER — Just in case Philadelphia 76er Robert Covington didn’t get the point across about staying healthy and fit last week, the students at the St. Agnes School were able to learn similar lessons Tuesday with a different athlete.
As part of the final year of a three-year program with the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, Philadelphia Union’s Taylor Washington visited the school to teach the students the importance of healthy eating and staying active.
“The kids are so great,” Washington said. “I think I had more fun than they did. For me, it was just a blast to be able to play soccer and to be able to come to a school similar to where I grew up and everything means a lot to me as well. I hope they had a great time because I definitely did.”
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After a study in 2010 by the Public Health Management Association showed that over 40 percent of children between the age of 6 to 12 in the southeastern portion of Pennsylvania are obese or overweight, the foundation started a three-year comprehensive research study.
Along with that, the foundation also started a three-year program to go out to 25 elementary schools in the four southeastern counties, as well as Philadelphia, to learn to cook healthy, get enough sleep and stay fit.
Washington was part of that staying fit aspect.
“To be honest, I wish I had learned that growing up,” he said. “Growing up, I had so much ice cream and so much junk food. I was in a different place and thought I could do whatever I want. When I got to college, I started eating healthier and I saw my game increase a lot. If they can start it at a younger age and be able to learn, that’s what it’s all about — making the future a lot brighter for them than it is now.”
Washington may be new to the Union, having just been drafted by the team in January, but he already knows how he wants to spend a piece of his professional career.
“When I was growing up, I had a lot of role models to look up to and I was very fortunate to know a few athletes who became professional athletes,” he said. “For me, what I want to do is set a good example for everyone and have fun. As long as I’m doing that, I know I’m doing my job pretty well.”
The St. Agnes students were able to rotate around to different stations outside on Tuesday, keeping them moving while having some fun as well.
At the end of it, they were also able to ask Washington some questions about staying healthy, fit and, well, whatever was on their mind, which was all an overall exciting time for the soccer player.
“There was some great athletic ability,” Washington said. “There were some goal scorers and they were really, really going at it. I was having a lot of fun.”
Since it is the final year of the program, all the sixth- graders were given two tickets to a Union home game later in June.
Though the foundation’s program may have come to an end, that doesn’t mean Washington won’t be looking for other opportunities to extend a hand to the community.
“I love doing anything along these lines,” he said. “Reaching out to the community is part of the reason why I became a professional athlete — to be able to give back and meet kids who aspire to do what I do and tell them they can do it. Any opportunity like this, I’m happy to do it.”