By Sam Kasan
The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation officially launched the new program PensFIT Friday afternoon at Neil Armstrong Middle School in Bethel Park.
PensFIT is a three-year initiative designed to introduce children to the sport of hockey and facilitate physical activity by providing elementary and middle schools with complete sets of floor hockey equipment.
To kick off the program, Penguins broadcaster and former Stanley Cup champion Phil Bourque and Iceburgh helped personally deliver hockey gear to Neil Armstrong Middle School with an assist from FedEx.
“It’s refreshing to see kids have that excitement for hockey,” Bourque said. “They’re having a blast. Some kids have never picked up a hockey stick before and in five minutes they’re having the time of their life. The kids are just playing and that’s what it’s all about – just having fun.”
“I think it’s very nice that we get new equipment and it was fun seeing the Penguins here,” said 11-year-old fifth-grader Emily Marshall. “I think my favorite part was learning new things about shooting. It was very fun to score against other people and against our friends.”
Emily was one of a group of students that tested out the new equipment in the school’s gymnasium. Led by teaching physician Mike Shaw and Bourque, the students learned the basic skills of stretching, passing and stick handling before enjoying a game of 5-on-5.
“It was a great time to have some fun with the kids and be first in the program,” Shaw said. “I think it’s great that the schools will provide equipment for hockey. It’s a great sport and you can learn a lot from it.”
“I really loved the experience, the Penguins coming here and giving us new equipment,” said 10-year-old fifth-grader Ryan Meis, who helped break in the goalie gear. “I’m honored to be one of the students to get to do it.”
Each set of equipment retails for over $1,000 and includes sticks, stick bags, goals, balls, goalie equipment and storage bags.
Over the next three years the program will encompass over 600 elementary and middle schools in 10 counties and benefit over 187,000 students. This year, over 250 qualifying schools in Allegheny County will receive free sets of floor hockey equipment.
“We’ve been working on this program for over a year,” Penguins Foundation president Dave Soltesz said. “This is a program that is totally funded by the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation. This was our answer to the national fitness program. For us it was actually giving equipment to the students.”
In addition to hockey gear, the Penguins Foundation will supply schools with student work books, instruction manuals and seminars at CONSOL Energy Center for the school’s physical education teachers, hosted by the Penguins coaching staff and team alum, to help sustain the interest. In the coming years of the program, schools will be added from the surrounding counties.
The equipment donation is just another effort by the Penguins organization to help grow the sport among children, along with the highly successful Learn to Play program.
“It’s getting kids to understand the basic rules,” Soltesz said. “They may never play ice hockey, but at least they understand and appreciate this sport, the skill and stick handling. It helps develop the sport, but more importantly it keeps these kids physically fit.”
The Penguins Foundation brought the sport to children so that they could enjoy it for the rest of their lives.
“Kids have all these different avenues to get into hockey and the Foundation is bringing the game to them,” Bourque said. “Thanks to FedEx Ground and Penguins Foundation who bring it right to them. They bring it right inside the school and let them have fun.
“These are either future fans or future players. You never know.”