Archive for Thursday, November 15, 2007

Commentary: NFL star learns a thing or two in school

Chargers’ Gates visits third grade, observes how childhood has changed in two decades

November 15, 2007


— Antonio Gates, the Chargers' All-Pro tight end, didn't expect to get tackled Tuesday morning.

On his day off. At an elementary school. Where many of the 472 kids who surrounded him looked as though they weighed less than his giant, silver-faced Pro Bowl watch.

The plan for the morning's "Take a Player to School" was to stop at the home of sweepstakes winner Kody Blackenbeckler, bring the 9-year-old by limousine to Miller Elementary School, sit through about 30 minutes of third grade, give a short speech about the importance of education, lead a fitness activity, sign autographs and answer a few questions.

Gates was there to teach. Instead he wound up learning about how much childhood has changed in two decades since he was a Detroit kid squirming at a miniature desk and daydreaming about meeting Detroit Lions Barry Sanders or Herman Moore.

"These kids are different," said Gates, 27, who, at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, was biggest man on campus. "Technology has changed a lot of what they do and what they know."

When Gates was a third-grader, he kept active by playing sports, the real kind that make your body sweat and heart pump - not the virtual, video-game kind that tie kids to televisions.

"What are those noises?" Gates asked, puzzled, watching a ring of 20 third-graders grunt, say "Ouch," and tumble clumsily forward when he led them through toe-touches.

"You should be active," Gates told them. "It makes you stronger, like a football player."

When Gates was a youngster, he probably would have asked Sanders or Moore questions like "What kind of car do you drive?" or "What kind of sneakers are you wearing?"

On Tuesday, Gates got none of that when he opened himself up for a Q&A; that wasn't child's play.

"Were you upset when Marty (Schottenheimer) left? I really miss him," asked Kody about the controversial dismissal of the coach who guided last season's Chargers to a franchise-best 14-2 record and an AFC West title.

"What's wrong with Philip Rivers? How come he doesn't throw you the ball more?" inquired a girl about the team's struggling quarterback.

A smiling Gates, who has a 4- and 5-year-old of his own, found himself needing a stretch-limo full of sugar to coat his answers.

"I couldn't believe it," said Gates later in Principal Tom Crenshaw's office. "They were asking the same questions I would get if I were out to dinner with adults."

In many other ways, Gates' back-to-school day went as expected. A "Welcome to Miller Elementary, Antonio Gates" banner hugged a wall near the main office and a "Go Bolts 85" sign hung on the chain-link fence when Gates and Kody arrived at 8:30 a.m.

The entire school lined the entrance's sidewalk. Kody, wearing a Chargers cap, Gates jersey and backpack, led Gates through the crowd of kids chanting "Go Chargers!" and reaching for high-fives from a real NFL player.


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