Robinson Secondary School senior Matt Conlon had not expected to meet Detroit Pistons player Richard Hamilton when he entered an essay about his school into a nationwide contest. He was just looking at the NBA's Web site as he did every day, he said.
"I'm a big NBA fan," said Conlon, 18, whose favorite teams are the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. One summer, he even attended Michael Jordan's summer basketball camp in California.
But meeting Hamilton in person was one of the greatest moments in his life, he said.
"It was amazing. This tops the basketball camp with Michael Jordan," said Conlon, who plays basketball with friends in his spare time and wants to major in sports management in college. "We got to interact with [Hamilton] and got to know a little bit about him."
Hamilton, a guard-forward for the Pistons who also played for the Washington Wizards, visited Robinson on Tuesday, Sept. 20 to celebrate the school's nomination as a winning school in the "Got Milk?" Healthy Schools Challenge. The challenge, sponsored by the "Got Milk?" campaign and the NBA, rewarded Robinson's health efforts with the visit by Hamilton and a $1,000 check, which athletic director Mike McGurk said will go toward varsity basketball jerseys.
Conlon and Robinson are also finalists for a grand prize: a $15,000 gym makeover for the school, NBA Finals tickets and a national "Milk Mustache" advertisement for Conlon. Conlon's winning 300-word essay described the healthy food choices in Robinson's lunch program and its "encouraging" physical education staff.
"This school is big on health," said Conlon. "Our football team is extremely good."
At Robinson, candy and soda machines are turned off during the day, said Conlon. One of the main drinks offered for sale at Robinson is milk, said Conlon, which he and his friends usually drink. The school offers a variety of fruits and vegetables for lunch, and the oil used to cook French fries is a less-fatty version.
"Kids still eat [fries], but it's definitely a better choice," said Conlon.
It is encouraging to see people like Conlon emphasizing milk as part of the diet, said Maria Adair, program coordinator with Fairfax County Food and Nutrition Services.
"At their age, it's difficult to get them to drink milk," said Adair. "We want to see more of that because the calcium in any milk product is an essential part of a healthy diet … the 'strong bones and teeth' thing still rules."
Humans add 15 percent of their adult height and half of their bone strength during their teenage years, said Isabel Maples, communications manager for the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association.
FAIRFAX COUNTY Public Schools dietary standards are strict, even more so than those in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where the regulations are some of the strongest in the United States, said Adair. Aside from vending machines being turned off during the day, she said, Robinson offers healthy drinks such as milk, fruit juice and water. FCPS has a "signature salad" series in school lunches and pizza with low-fat cheese and whole-wheat crusts, among other things.
"Kids should admit that they eat school lunches and that it's the best deal in town," Adair said. "I can't imagine that you can get such a selection at this price anywhere else."
Robinson also offers several lunch periods, said Adair. The expanded lunchtime relieves the strain on the lunch line and encourages students to think about healthy eating choices rather than grabbing the first food item they see, she said. Also, more time to choose lunch items reduces students' need for vending machines.
The P.E. program at Robinson is also noteworthy, said Conlon.
"They really do work you at our school," he said. P.E. students train for strength and flexibility, he said, and have to complete one- and two-mile runs.
Robinson offers a weight training class as an elective for 10th graders on up, said Jeff Swigert, a friend of Conlon's. Every quarter, the class competes in power meets, he said. Robinson has not lost a meet since the mid-1990s, said John Ennis, another friend
"The weight room is packed most days," said McGurk. About 300 students are enrolled in the class, he said.
A newly added unit of the health curriculum at Robinson focuses on nutrition, said McGurk. "There's an emphasis on healthy lifestyles, learning how to make healthy choices after you're done with your P.E. requirement," he said.
For Hamilton, a Colesville, Pa. native who began playing basketball at age 7, health choices were instilled at an early age.
"I never understood it back then," said Hamilton. In high school, he said, his father steered him away from fast food and instead gave him things like V-8, fruit or egg whites to eat before games. "But I'm glad he did, because now it's normal for me."
Hamilton said he sometimes eats fast food today, but only after a week of healthy eating.
"You treat your body like an investment," he said. "What you put in, you're going to get out … if you put junk in, that's what you're going to get."
Conlon invited a group of friends to meet Hamilton and spend time with him after the assembly. The basketball player signed autographs and posed for photographs with the students.
"[Hamilton] is an awesome player. He's a midrange jumper, and he owns the court, player-wise," said Conlon.