CHARLOTTE – Former J.W. Grier Academy student Laia Garland recently won an essay contest about the importance of school supplies.
As a result, the Carolina Panthers and Classroom Central supplied the elementary school with a prize the students won't soon forget.
Garland, now in middle school, returned to serve as a judge at the Play 60 Pep Rally held Tuesday that included a quartet of Panthers players as well as Sir Purr and TopCats.
"This is one of the best things about being a player, getting to see the excitement in these kids' eyes," punter Brad Nortman said. "It really makes our job so much more fulfilling."
The 800-plus students were pumped up in a fever pitch even before the players joined in the fun. When rookie defensive end Kawann Short was introduced, he had a hard time making his way to the stage.
"Coming down the alley, kids were grabbing me," Short said. "It's fun to see these kids out here having fun and full of energy. It gives you a lot of energy.
"Growing up, you always wanted to be a part of things like this. Now that I'm able to do it and see the smiles on these kids' faces, it's just an honor to be here."
Once on stage, the players teamed with students to answer a series of questions about the NFL's initiative aimed at encouraging kids to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.
One answer revealed that Grier's second-graders thought center Jeff Byers could do 20,000 push-ups.
"Duh. Have you seen my stylish good looks?" Byers said. "We enjoy friendly competitions. It's fun to watch the teachers dress like a Panther and do all these fun, silly games. It never gets old."
Byers jokingly questioned whether one of the physical competitions was on the up-and-up and was visibly distraught (not really) when the team captained by him and Short lost to the duo of Nortman and tight end Richie Brockel.
"I've won twice against Jeff Byers. I'm very proud of that," Brockel said. "Sometimes I feel like I have more fun than the kids do."