By Jocelyn Vinoya Serranilla
Newly crowned three-point champion John Shurna may add one more title to his already impressive resume: physical fitness advocate for school children.
Shurna drained advice to middle schoolers as fast as he rained three's on his opponents that made him win the three-point shootout title. "Make the right choices, eat nutritious food, stay active everyday," he told students at River Trails Middle School, urging them to commit to a healthy lifestyle in school and in the community.
Shurna's visit on Thursday, April 5 coincided with the school's assembly to kick off its commitment to Fuel Up To Play 60, a program that promotes a healthy lifestyle through nutritious meals, exercise and physical activities for at least 60 minutes a day. Sponsored by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, Fuel Up encourages school children to eat nutrient-rich foods, including food containing low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and to engage in exercise and physical activities everyday.
Sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students at River Trails packed their gymnasium as early as 7:50 in the morning, some wearing purple Wildcat T-shirts with Northwestern men's basketball logos, while awaiting the surprise visitor from the Northwestern Wildcats. When school principal Keir Rogers introduced the Wildcat's all-time men's basketball leading scorer, the crowd let a thunderous applause, greeting Shurna's presence with hoots and whistles. Most of the comments heard from the crowd ranged from, 'He's so tall," to, "he's a cool guy."
"How is it going, guys? Thanks for having me," Shurna crackled, bending over to reach the microphone, then adjusting the stand to avoid bending so low, as the principal, who stands a little over six-feet tall commented, "John is a foot taller than I am," drawing more laughter from students and staff.
"This is going to be a great day," Rogers said, as he beamed to acknowledge the students' enthusiasm for the program and Shurna's presence. "We are very happy to have John Shurna come out and speak to our students today," Rogers says. One student in the crowd let his excitement known by screaming, "John!" as the 6-9 Shurna walked over the podium.
Shurna shared his experience at Northwestern, explaining to the kids that although strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers help him to compete at the highest level as a student-athlete, he still has to make a choice. "Junk food," he says, "will always be there, and it's very tempting. Choose nutritious food. The more energy you have, the more time you have to play outside," he told the kids.
"Eating nutritious food definitely helped me stay active and to reach a lot of my goals academically and athletically." Shurna's presence at the assembly helped the school celebrate its signing up to Fuel Up To Play 60, becoming one of 72,000 schools across the United States committed to a healthy lifestyle. The commitment makes River Trails Middle School, located in Mt. Prospect, one of 4,000 schools in Illinois eligible to a grant award from the National Dairy Council and the NFL. Grants may include additional resources, tools, rewards and incentives for students in grades K-12, adult advisers and the school.
"John is a great example to our students not just because he is an athlete but more so because he is a student-athlete who puts a lot of effort into being a student," Rogers told the crowd. "John is a great example to be in front of you, not just because he is an aspiring professional athlete. Keep in mind that he is a student-athlete who has done a decent job in the classroom, and also takes care of business with his body, physical fitness and athletics."
Besides Shurna, former Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Morgan, and a doctor from the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians, a registered dietician and a professional chef all assisted in the kick-off. Morgan, drafted by the Bears in 1991, urged the students to stay involved, noting that he was "excited to be around great athletes, great individuals and the next generation of powerful individuals."
After the assembly in the gym, students were divided into groups and were led by their teachers to different stations where they participated in hula hoops, run relays, volleyball, dance exercise, calorie counting, push-ups and pulse-rate monitoring. Shurna and Morgan visited each station and mingled with students throughout each visit. Matt Abfall and Grant Wagner, both seventh graders, were quick to grab Shurna for a quick photo op. Wagner proudly showed Shurna his purple T-shirt that says, "Northwestern Basketball." And how do these kids from suburban Mt. Prospect know Shurna? Both Wagner and Abfall were quick to reply, "We watch him on TV."
George Keehn, physical education teacher at River Trails Middle School, echoes Rogers's praise for Shurna, saying, "I think John Shurna is an inspiration to every athlete who wants to succeed because he is someone who works as hard as he possibly could to get to where he is at. Most people would have given up a long time down the road but his courage, his work ethic and his success is absolutely terrific."
Were the kids excited to have Shurna? "Very much," says Keehn. "I've got these kids now running relays and I talked about John Shurna and they cannot believe that he can probably be in the NBA next year, which is great and that's a great inspiration for them because they can see that he's a regular guy. Kids can relate to Shurna and say, "Hey, I'm a regular guy. I can be as successful."
Thirteen-year old Abfall, who eagerly awaited his turn to have a picture taken with Shurna, says, "I watched him win the three-point contest. I watched him beat Juan Fernandez of Temple." Now Shurna can proudly say he watched these kids Fuel Up to Play 60.