76ers deliver healthy message to A.C. kids

Philadelphia 76ers ambassador and former player World B. Free takes a shot during a fitness and nutrition rally at the New York Avenue School in Atlantic City on Friday. ‘It’s a program to let the youth know to put good stuff in their bodies,’ said Free, who played in the NBA for 13 years.

Students at the New York Avenue School in Atlantic City got the chance to challenge former NBA player World B. Free to a basketball skills contest and be entertained by the Sixers Flight Squad crew at a rally Friday.

In advance of the Philadelphia 76ers' preseason game at Boardwalk Hall on Oct. 13, the team hosted its first Sixers Fit Rally, featuring health tips, exercises and activities designed to promote a healthier, more active lifestyle as part of the team's Fit to Fun program.

"I had to keep up with some of the greatest players in the game, like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird," Free, 58, told the assembled students in the school gymnasium.

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"I'm like 6-foot-21/2, but I can jump pretty well. So I had to make sure I stayed fit and would eat the right foods. You can't just sit around on the couch, on the iPad or playing video games. You have to do something."

Free, who works for the 76ers as a team ambassador, was joined by the Flight Squad, who performed flips and dance moves before inviting kids up to do some excercises and attempt some shots Students Canei Marshall and Jackie Jones drew cheers when they made their shots.

Several students joined teacher James Taylor in a contest with Free that went on for shot after shot - with Taylor making his two shots to tie it up - before the former NBA All-Star finally made one of the half--court, under-handed shots he had been trying for basket No. 3.

"It's a program to let the youth know to put good stuff in their bodies," Free, who averaged 20.3 points per game in a 13-year NBA career that included two stints with the 76ers (1975-78, 1987), said beforehand. "We're trying to get them to drink more milk, orange juice, get yourself plenty of rest. ... All those things help in the long run as you grow older."

Principal James Knox said that programs like Fit to Fun were "very important in a society where obesity is on the rise. ... I see it as being a constructivist approach to talking about exercise. It's thinking outside the box, and we're really outside the box today."

In addition, Knox said, "we're a fruit and vegetable school. We don't allow candy here. ... We're really trying to be healthy in our choices."

As for the Sixers' preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets at Boardwalk Hall next Saturday night, Free added that, "I never had the opportunity to play a basketball game in Atlantic City. I think it's going to be really fantastic, not just for (the team), but for the city of Atlantic City.

"If people bring the kind of energy we have here today, it's going to like a whole circus here next weekend."

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Follow Steven Lemongello on Twitter @SteveLemongello

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