Students and their families packed into the Visitation Center at Villa Maria Academy on Saturday, March 13 for the 22nd annual Breakfast of Champions.
The event honors those at Villa who have the highest scores on the New York State physical fitness test – administered to every student at the school during their physical education program.
The school also took time to also pay tribute to the family of one of its students who died tragically in car a crash in December. The father of Kaitlin Booth was on hand to receive a special award from Michael Bernard, the Villa’s physical education department’s head.
Bernard said that the breakfast is a great way to give back to the students and reward them for striving to be physically fit. The event also raises money for loan obligation’s on the school’s Visitation Center and celebrates the fact that the school has consistently ranked proficient in the Data Based Physical Fitness Test, a national fitness standard that only 33% of schools reach. The New York State physical fitness test has nine events, including pull ups, sit ups, shuttle run, and ball throw.
“For 22 years I have coordinated VMA’s annual Breakfast of Champions,” Bernard said. “Each and every year I feel the excitement as if it were my first year. The kids work so hard for three straight months on this testing process. I try to remind all of my students that if they truly try their very best, then they are all considered winners!This event is offered to promote physical fitness.”
The keynote address was a motivational speech given to the students by NYPD officer Steven McDonald. McDonald spent most of his 25 years as a cop in a wheelchair because of a senseless act of violence by three young men who shot the officer in the head, neck, and arm when he bent down while questioning them to see if one of them was carrying a gun in his sock.
Despite being paralysed from the neck down, McDonald has made a career as a police officer no longer focuses “on locking people up,” as he puts it, but working to unlock them from the prisons of destructive attitudes. The purpose of having McDonald speak was to show the children what a true champion is like.
“I was a NYC police officer for over 25 years, the majority of them have been in this wheelchair,” McDonald told the students. “I have come to learn that with the right mind-set and good heart, anything is possible. I was told many times after the shooting that if I hadn’t been in good shape, I would not have survived.”
McDonald urged the boys and girls present to continue to build their bodies, minds, and spirits. He also read the students a poem that he had written that encouraged them to realize their uniqueness and potential. Also present to give the students a motivational shot in the arm was five-time world boxing champion Iran Barkley.
In attendance were Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Councilman Jimmy Vacca, former Assemblyman Steven Kaufman, Community Board 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns, and 80th assembly Democratic district leader Joe McManus.
“I applaud Mr. B for providing the quality physical education that so many students in our state need,” Benedetto said.