NFL's Pope returns to Americus for 4th annual 'Kids Day' event (EDITS: includes Q&A with Pope)

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AMERICUS -- The Pope is coming back to Southwest Georgia.

No, not the one from the Vatican. The tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Leonard Pope, a four-year NFL veteran and former University of Georgia star, will be in Americus Saturday, promoting the fight against childhood obesity with his annual "Kids Day" event in his hometown, featuring a "Fitness Walk," football drills, lunch and talks from NFL players about staying in shape.

"Basically, (we're hoping for) the whole town (to come out)," Pope said. "We're looking for a good turnout, because it's a chance for the kids and the community to come out and have a little fun. Just for once to be able to exercise and have fun all at once."

Marcus Johnson, co-founder of the event Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, said it's a great scene every year. Pope was born at the hospital -- which was known as Sumter Region Medical back then -- and has made the new facility a beneficiary of his community events since it was ravaged by a tornado in 2007.

"The whole theme of it is to keep moving," said. "We want the kids to know that they will not only not make it to the pros with a sedentary lifestyle, they won't be able to live a healthy, productive life."

Pope has been doing similar events for local kids since 2005, but got the idea about focusing this year's event on obesity after talking to Johnson.

"I (heard something) that kids in this generation have a good chance of not outliving their parents," Johnson said. "It just goes to show that we need to change. When I was growing up, everyone had a bicycle. Nowadays, everyone is sitting in front of their TV, playing video games."

Pope also said he was inspired by the first lady.

"For one, Michelle Obama's main focus has been on (childhood obesity)," Pope said. "She's been trying to reach out to everyone in the world. Us NFL guys (do the same thing), and we go to different clubs and the YMCA and (other places) and work with the kids to be active and explain how it helps their lives."

The event starts at 9 a.m. Saturday at Staley Middle School, where children will take a 1.5-mile walk to the Sumter County Fairgrounds.

Johnson said he hopes any spectators who catch the group on the way will get the message they're trying to send.

"Our number one goal is creating awareness, letting people know that this is a problem," Johnson said. "You gotta get out there, you gotta run, you gotta eat better. It's affecting all of our health. It's very important for not just kids, but parents and the community as a whole."

After the walk, the children will have a 30-minute break to cool down. At 10 a.m., after being introduced to Pope and other NFL players, they'll split off into groups to do drills. Lunch will be served at 11, followed by a few words from the players until the event's end at noon.

Pope and his NFL friends will be signing autographs throughout the event. Registration starts at 8 a.m. for the walk, where children who participate will receive t-shirts.

"They're already calling it the 'Pope Parade,' " Pope said. "Join the Pope Parade. Walk, get a t-shirt. It'll be something fun."