Off The Press

December 8, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Connecting off the field

Chantelle Lusebrink, Press Reporter

Chantelle Lusebrink, Press Reporter

A 24-21 loss to New England, I’m sure, wasn’t what the Seahawks envisioned Dec. 7. Though their record on the field isn’t stellar, Seahawks football players are racking up wins off the field with Issaquah residents.

In the past month, two Seahawks superstars, Matt Hasselbeck and Deion Branch, have come to Issaquah.But neither was here to drum up publicity for a new endorsement, or even entice people to watch the games on Sundays. Instead, they came for their youngest fans, Issaquah’s students.

When a black limousine rolled up at about 8 a.m. Dec. 2, the hallway inside Issaquah Middle School erupted with excitement.

Climbing out first was sixth-grader Andy Co. But it was who Andy brought with him — Seahawks starting quarterback Hasselbeck — that really rallied the crowd.

Hasselbeck came to the school because Andy won a Take an NFL Player to School sweepstakes. He was one of 34 students in the nation to take a player to school.

Amid all the screaming, jumping and shouting, Hasselbeck seemed right at home.

As part of the day, he held an assembly talking about the importance of staying active and healthy throughout life, and he helped a teacher lead a physical education class.

But what was refreshing was the modest attitude he came with.

As a fan of the Seahawks, I thought he always seemed like a pretty down-to-earth kind of guy while being interviewed. But watching him interact with Andy, asking him questions, listening to Andy’s answers, and letting him talk during the assembly and P.E. class confirmed it wasn’t all for the camera.

He also handled all the students’ questions with the finesse of a regular dad — even the curve ball about girls in the NFL. In case you’re wondering, Hasselbeck said his own 5-year-old daughter would play football if she wants to, and if a girl is good enough, there’s no reason she shouldn’t be allowed to play.

During his P.E. class, Hasselbeck didn’t hesitate to dive right in, tossing footballs to students, giving them tips and doling out plenty of high-fives.

When the fire alarm went off in the middle of class, he sauntered out of the building like anyone else, unfazed by the sudden bombardment of dozens of middle school boys asking questions as he stood in the rain.

When it was time to go, reporters and photographers hounded Hasselbeck for one last photo. But instead of mugging it up by himself, he made sure the last shot was with the Co family — Andy, his brother Nick, 14, his mother Judy and his father Dickson.

Also in town recently was Branch, the Seahawks’ wide receiver. He made an appearance Nov. 21 at Sunset Elementary School.

The school received an assembly when two families, the Easterns and the Karls, bid on a speaking engagement at Branch’s foundation’s auction, which benefits children diagnosed with meningitis.

Branch started the foundation after his son Deiondre was diagnosed with meningitis at birth.

The assembly was supposed to happen at two earlier dates in October and November, but when the Seahawks lost games each day before, the assembly was cancelled so Branch could participate in the team’s extra practice.

Despite the mishaps, when Branch was able to come to the school, he more than made up for the cancellations.

The Seahawks franchise sent team mascot Blitz, three Sea Gals and the Blue Thunder drum line to Sunset.

Branch signed more than 650 pictures of himself, one for each child at the school, purchased pizza for every classroom and presented Principal Wayne Hamasaki with an official Seahawks 12th Man flag.

What struck me was the sincerity in Branch’s voice as he finally stepped out onto the stage at the school.

In front of the students, staff and several very excited families, Branch said he was sorry for the confusion and was truly sorry for the scheduling conflicts it caused.

Being a father of four, he also said he realized how disappointed the students must have been and he asked them to forgive him.

It was a humble apology from a professional athlete, the type of person many people in society look at as being superhuman. In reality, even they are men who make mistakes.

But it was how Branch handled his mistake that earned him the respect of a school and a community — he appreciated even the smallest of fans.

So, while they may be having a tough season on the turf, these Seahawks are definitely winners.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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