University City

Countryside pursues $10,000 Panthers grant

Last month the NFL and United Way kicked off the 2011 football season with an event to show team and school spirit and support for local NFL teams and to celebrate the start of a new football year.

The nationwide campaign, called Back to Football Friday, ties in with the NFL's Play 60 initiative to help eliminate childhood obesity by promoting health and wellness in kids around the country.

The event was open to any school across the country and encouraged them to show off team pride and their commitment to youth health and wellness. The grand prize winner will receive a $10,000 grant for its school.

Countryside Montessori put on an impressive display of school pride, organizing a Carolina Panthers party that puts the school in the running for the grant. New head of school Chuck Nusinov expected a good turnout and some participation, but he was overwhelmed with the support his school gave.

"I showed up in my Panthers jersey with my wig on but was absolutely blown away by the participation we had," Nusinov said. "We have about 450 students and 110 teaches and staff, and we had 100 percent participation. I was so proud how it turned out."

Play 60, a joint initiative by the United Way and the NFL, encourages kids to get outside and play for at least 60 minutes a day.

Nationwide, nearly 12.5 million children - more than 17 percent of all kids ages 2 to 19 - are considered obese in the United States. About one in three adults also are considered obese.

"Being a Montessori school, the Back to Football Friday really ties in with what we are doing and what we do," Nusinov said. "It was a great way for us to show our spirit and to kick off our athletic season."

"Plus it is an exciting time, with the Panthers getting the No. 1 (draft) pick and starting their season. It was something fun for the school, and hopefully we will be receiving the grant. Even if we don't, it was encouraging to see parents and students get so involved, and it showed me a lot."

The school made it an all-day event filled with exercises, and it used the celebration to encourage school spirit, health and fitness.

Countryside encourages all its students to participate in multiple sports and has fifth-graders through seniors on many of its athletic teams. Last year, more than 70 percent of the school's students participated in sports.

Nusinov said the ultimate goal of the event is to win the grant, but he was more than pleased with how it turned out.

"We really brought it," Nusinov said. "It was great to see all the kids, parents and faculty having fun and getting so involved. I am proud of how it turned out for us."