by Hannah McCaffrey || AHL On The Beat Archive
The Syracuse Crunch office was hardly surprised when Eric Neilson pitched the idea of bringing a healthy-eating campaign to Syracuse schools.
Despite being known as an on-ice enforcer and a fierce competitor, Neilson plays a very active role off the ice in regularly giving back to the Syracuse community.
Neilson explained to the Syracuse Post-Standard, “I just thought in today’s society, you see obesity in kids, McDonald’s, fast food, everything is processed. There is not enough education for kids to show them what they should be eating.”
With the help of teachers from the Dr. King Elementary School in Syracuse, Neilson organized the Breakfast with a Champion healthy eating contest for a group of fourth graders.
Part one of Neilson’s healthy eating contest started with a visit to the fourth-grade classes of Dr. King Elementary. Neilson explained the importance of healthy eating for professional athletes and shared advice and ideas with the kids on how they can maintain an active lifestyle and well-balanced diet in their own lives.
“Looking back when I was a kid we didn’t really have somebody coming in that was a professional athlete or somebody in the community and stressing the importance of breakfast and I just felt like I was in a position now where I could do that and maybe give back a little bit,” Neilson expressed to Syracuse News Channel 9.
The talk highlighted the importance of Neilson’s favorite meal of the day: breakfast. Neilson emphasized that a well-balanced breakfast provides fuel for the rest of the day whether that consists of playing hockey or learning in the classroom. Hands shot up in the air as Neilson quizzed the class on their favorite healthy breakfast meals and recipes.
At the conclusion of Neilson’s talk, he explained to the kids that they would be participating in a contest. The kids were charged with the task of creating posters about a healthy diet and breakfast explaining the information they learned from their conversation with Neilson.
The fourth graders were divided in to groups of three and given two days to complete their projects. The kids were encouraged to use their creative talents to express what they learned from Neilson. Teachers from Dr. King Elementary decided on the winning group.
“You can come in here and talk for half an hour and kids — it could go in one ear and out the other,” Neilson told News Channel 9. “But if you do a project and give them a goal or prize they can get at the end that’s going to make them work a little bit harder.”
Neilson’s theory was proven right and the judges had some very tough decisions to make. The winning group was rewarded for their hard work with the opportunity to sit down and have a healthy breakfast with Eric Neilson, where they discussed both hockey and healthy eating. The winners were also given tickets to see Neilson play at Crunch home game.
“All the guys are great about being involved in the community, but it’s not often that one comes to us with a program they want to implement,” said Maggie Walters, Crunch director of public relations.
Neilson is known for giving his all on the ice and it is clear that he does the same for the entire Syracuse community.