– One look at Danny Cleary
and it was easy to tell that the Red Wings’ forward was having just as much fun as the 370 over-exuberant grade-school children that he visited Thursday afternoon.
The visit to Peck Elementary School
struck home for Cleary, a father of two young daughters, ages 2 and 5.
“That’s why this is pretty cool,” he said, “because you can relate and take it home, and it makes this easier and a whole lot of fun, especially when I see the faces of some of these girls. … It’s fun.”
Cleary joined the Red Wings’ School Assembly Program, which is sponsored by the Detroit Red Wings Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
. The program, which started last year, is intended to introduce young school-aged children to hockey and encourage them to lead active and healthy lives through daily exercise and good eating habits.
The Wings’ program is set to visit 100 elementary schools in metro Detroit this season.
Cleary was on hand in the school’s tiny gymnasium where he interacted with students and teachers, led the audience in a few calisthenics, and answered plenty of really good questions.
Perhaps the best question of the afternoon came from Erich in Mrs. Flanigan’s class, who asked, “Did you get to pick your number, and if so why did you pick 11?”
Cleary’s answer – true or not – didn’t have much of an impact on the kids. However, the female teachers and staff seemed to approve with him crediting his wife, saying, “She picked it because to her she got two No. 1s.”
The kids also wanted to know how old he was when he started playing hockey? "Four-years-old."
What was his favorite class in school? "Math."
How did he get so good at scoring? "I play with a couple guys named Pav and Z."
And if you were not a hockey player, what would he be? "An electrician."
Of course, the day wouldn't be complete without the Red Wings leaving some special items behind for the school, including two complete sets of floor hockey equipment, as well as Red Wings-themed school folders for each student, and BCBS magnets that list five fun after-school activities.
In return, the Center Line School District went above and beyond for Cleary and the Red Wings. The high school cheerleaders formed a welcome line in the gym entranceway, and members of the Panthers marching band played in the lobby.
The children’s Red Wings artwork decorated the school lobby and down the back hallway, and a big sign over the main gym doors read, “We (heart) Cleary.”
“It’s crazy; they went all out for me,” Cleary said. “It’s pretty awesome. I saw their bulletin board with all of their artwork with the No. 11, so Peck Elementary … it was good to be here today.”
Growing up in a small town in eastern Canada, nobody famous ever visited his classrooms, Cleary said.
“No, no one famous,” he said. “ I couldn’t have imagined how cool it would have been though. … But I’m proud to be able to do things like this. “
Cleary’s community activism should come as no surprise. He’s been a role model for school children in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. A last year the government recognized his place in the community by issuing a framed limited-edition print of its local hockey hero to every school, K-12, in the province.
The hope is that every Peck student, which he met Thursday will be moved to chase their dreams no matter how small or large, Cleary said.
“I think the biggest thing is that maybe it’s inspiration for kids growing up, not even if it’s not hockey-related,” he said. “It can be dreams to be something bigger. They can look at me, and look at what I’ve done, so that’s kind of the basis behind today. … Hopefully this sticks in the minds of some of these kids for a long time.Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill