Posted by Eric Horvath on July 18, 2014 at 10:04 AM
About 100 youngsters practicing their dance moves Tuesday for Philly Play's end-of-summer event were giving it their all for a good reason: Their efforts had the added responsibility of persuading Michelle Obama to come to Philadelphia.
Philly Play, City Council's free summer camp program, will end the season Aug. 13 with its Summer Challenge, in which 2,000 children go head to head in a variety of sports and competitions, and Philly Play wants the first lady and her daughters to attend.
Their invitation included a video of Tuesday's practice at Dorothy Emanuel Recreation Center.
"Mrs. Obama has really, really promoted our good health, and we want to send our message to Washington, D.C., that Philadelphia is on the move," Councilwoman Marian Tasco told the 6- to 12-year-olds as a camera was rolling. The children responded with a round of cheers that echoed through the gym.
Councilman Robert Henon organized Philly Play in 2012 as a free version of the City Parks and Recreation Department's $150 to $600 day camps. The 10 Philly Play camps let children from low-income families play sports and compete in organized activities under the supervision of coaches, staff, and other specialists, but the real objective is to get the children active for at least an hour a day.
"I have two kids of my own, so I understand the importance of active play - I think we have a preventative health measure in something like this," said Henon before leading the kids into their rehearsed dance routine - of which he knew every move. "Not everybody has that opportunity for 60 minutes of daily structured play time."
Azaraha Robinson, who has been involved with Parks and Recreation camps for 14 years, said she hoped the first lady would come - and, as requested, bring Sasha and Malia as well.
"[The program] introduces the kids to something that hasn't been introduced to, like some of the games we grew up playing," said Robinson, whose three children are involved with the camp.
She said Philly Play gives the campers free water bottles to help foster the kind of healthy habits Obama has been promoting with her "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity.
"Some of them wouldn't normally drink water throughout the day, but they love these water bottles and keep filling them up all day," Robinson said.
Annaela Scott, 9, who said her favorite sport was soccer, said she made a lot of friends and improved her basketball skills while participating in Philly Play.
"My favorite part is when we get to paint," she said. "I like to paint my name."
When the filming was over, Henon seemed satisfied.
"I'm optimistic," Henon said of Obama's potential visit. "She is a great role model."
Because of tight security needs, the first lady's office will not notify the city of her decision to visit until two or three days before the Summer Challenge.
Read the full story from Lydia O'Neal, Inquirer Staff Writer, on Philly.com.