FORT MILL, S.C. – Gold Hill Elementary kindergarten teacher Stephanie Haecherl hoped for the best after applying on behalf of her school to host the Carolina Panthers and United Way's annual hometown huddle event.
"Considering it's an NFL, nationwide contest," Haercherl said, "I knew there was a lot of competition."
Her application was selected, and as a result, Gold Hill Elementary hosted a Play 60 pep rally on Tuesday.
"I'm so happy and so thankful," Haercherl said. "This is a fabulous opportunity for the students here. It's just a great coming together. The Play 60 program instills healthy habits that last a lifetime, so we were thrilled."
Added Panthers Director of Community Relations Riley Fields: "Not only did we have fun, but we gave them some real positive messaging about making healthy eating choices and proper ways to get that daily physical activity."
Wide receiver Steve Smith, left tackle Jordan Gross, tight end Richie Brockel and offensive lineman Jeff Byers made the day even more memorable for the students.
The players joined them for a trivia contest and helped lead student-teacher obstacle courses in an auditorium jam-packed with thrilled young fans.
"It means a lot to be able to come out and spend time with the kids," Gross said after performing a set of push-ups for the crowd. "It's so much fun getting out in the community."
"This is fun, this is what it's all about," Smith said. "This is the next generation of Panthers fans, this is the next generation of Panthers players. It starts from the ground up. Reaching out, this is the fun part. We enjoy this."
It appeared the star wide receiver had just as much fun as the dozens of awed children wearing his No. 89 jersey.
"It re-energizes you," Smith said. "After a game like Sunday it gives you perspective.
"They make us smile just as much as we make them smile."