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Homer excites kids about healthy living

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Holmstrom shows a student at Maples Elementary how to stick-hand Wednesday afternoon during his visit to the Dearborn school. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)
DEARBORN, Mich. – When Tomas Holmstrom first heard the number, he was expecting the worst Wednesday afternoon.

But by the time he walked into the tiny 82-year-old gymnasium accompanied by a dozen Arabic drummers and to a thunderous ovation, he was pleasantly surprised.

“I thought that with 600 kids, it was going to be crazy,” Holmstrom said. “But in kindergarten they are so tiny, it didn’t really feel like it was 600, but when they started screaming it felt like a thousand. It was fun.”

Holmstrom was at Maples Elementary School in Dearborn as part of 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.

Wednesday’s visit to western Wayne County was one of a 100 scheduled appearances to elementary schools in metro Detroit this season.

Besides talking about healthy living, the Red Wings also left 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.

“I know myself growing up, we were always outside playing street hockey, especially when it wasn’t cold enough,” said Holmstrom, who’s from northern Sweden. “If we didn’t have nets or snow piles or rocks as nets, we had to improvise. Now they have all of the tools here, and it’s always good to plant some seeds in them.”

Holmstrom’s message of education and dedication wasn’t lost on his audience, especially, Fatme Faraj, Maples’ principal.

“This is a wonderful event for the school community,” said Faraj, in her second year as Maples’ head administrator. “It encourages the students to develop and implement healthy habits, such as physical activities and they focused on the themes of education and dedication. This is very important for our students to hear that from a celebrity.”

The 600-plus children, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, asked some pretty pointed questions, but one particular query caused a fairly big raucous.

“Do goalies not like you very much?” one child asked.

“I’ve got that question a bunch before, but it’s funny when it’s children asking the questions,” Holmstrom said.

However, he was quick to note that nemeses like Ed Belfour and Patrick Roy have retired, but, “I’m still here,” the Wings’ forward said.

During the assembly, Holmstrom spent several minutes talking about the importance of eating good foods, limiting junk food and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

“You’ve got to plant that seed too and talk about it, and if you don’t talk about it they’re not going to be aware of it,” Holmstrom said. “So for sure it’s important to talk about what to eat and stuff like that. I’ve got kids myself and for sure they want to go the easy route and have chips and cookies when they come home, but you’re not going to last on that.”

Holmstrom said that he learned healthier eating habits when he was a pre-teenager.

“I think when I was maybe 10 or 11 (years-old) and we started talking more about it and going to a couple of hockey schools,” he said. “I was drinking coffee in the morning and that’s not really good for you. So I stopped because they said, ‘You’re going to stunt your growth by drinking coffee.’ I was the smallest kid growing up so I stopped drinking coffee.”

Is he still off the caffeinated drink?

“Now I’m back on the coffee,” Holmstrom said, laughing.

While athletics is a big part of the Arabic community in Dearborn, ice hockey hasn’t been a traditional pastime.

Asked if visits like Wednesday’s by the Red Wings will encourage more of her students to play hockey, Faraj said, “I believe that they will when they’re exposed to such activities, people and celebrities like this that would come and share their experiences with them. This has been a wonderful thing for them.

 “I believe that our community is very involved in sports and you could see that a lot of our students had a background knowledge about hockey. I believe that they will take advantage of the offers that they were given and the incentives and going to the hockey clinics.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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