DETROIT -- Mother Nature may not have cooperated but that did not put a damper on the spirits of hundreds of Detroit Public School students.
On Wednesday afternoon at Little Caesars Arena, the Detroit Red Wings and Chevrolet, in conjunction with the Detroit Public Schools Foundation, surprised more than 500 second graders from seven schools in the Detroit Public Schools Community District with new bicycles, helmets, locks and bells to celebrate the kids completing the Road and Bicycle Safety Program.
"I think this is great, the kids are excited, they know bike safety," said Shelly Zajkowski, teacher at Bagley Elementary. "I was just telling the kids that this is their bike and one goes, 'Is this my forever bike?'
"I said, 'Yeah, this is your forever bike.' So that's the kind of impact it has."
The students have been practicing their riding skills and learned about road safety during their physical education classes in school last month and believed they were just coming to Little Caesars Arena to celebrate finishing the program.
Instead, after an assembly in the arena bowl that reviewed road safety, the students saw a video of the building and tagging of the bikes and learned they would soon be finding their own new bikes outside in the Chevrolet Plaza.
Had the weather been better, each student would have had an opportunity to take his or her bike for a ride on one of five courses around Little Caesars Arena.
But the rain did not drown out the kids' excitement after they had a chance to go out and see their new, tagged and personalized bikes.
Each bicycle had a custom Michigan license plate that represented all seven schools that took part in the Road & Bicycle Safety Program: Bagley Elementary, Brown Academy, Gompers Elementary, King Academic and Performing Arts Academy, Mason Elementary, Munger Elementary and Spain Elementary.
"It's amazing. Even standing here talking to you now, I'm getting goose bumps hearing the excitement behind us right now," said Chris Granger, group president, Sports & Entertainment, Ilitch Holdings, Inc. "It's just so exciting. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of these kids. We're thrilled to be a part of it, we thank Chevrolet for being a part of it. It's just a wonderful partnership and we look forward to doing it again in the future."
Also in on the surprise were Detroit Red Wings Danny DeKeyser and Luke Witkowski.
"The amount of distracted drivers, you got to teach these kids the bike safety things because people are not all paying attention," Witkowski said. "You've got to pay attention to the traffic and all the people on the road."
DeKeyser revealed to the students that he started riding a bike when he was six years old and his first bike was a Batman bike. "I think it got sold at a garage sale," DeKeyser said. "I think I had another bike by that time, a bigger one that fit me better."
Witkowski, a Holland, Mich. native, said he kept his first bike for a long time, much longer than DeKeyser kept his Batman one.
"I told the kids up there it was a Mongoose," Witkowski said. "I don't think we got rid of it until I was 20-some years old. I think some kid in the neighborhood is still riding it so it's still around. We gave it to some neighbor kids."
During their Q&A session, one kid asked Witkowski if he could do a wheelie, which was an opportunity Witkowski couldn't really pass up.
It was the second straight year that DeKeyser, a Detroit native who lives not far from downtown, participated in the event.
"It's awesome," DeKeyser said. "That's the best part, they come in not knowing that they're all getting a new bike and then once they find that out, they're excited. It's just fun to see the excitement."
Among the excited kids was Lakela Thomas, 9, of King Academic and Performing Arts Academy.
"I did have fun and stuff," Thomas said. "I like to ride bikes because I don't have nothing to do at home."
Jaden Feaster, 9, of King Academic and Performing Arts Academy, said he was very surprised to get a new bike.
"I'm going to be happy and I'm going to ride my bike forever and I'm going to get to ride it with my two brothers," Feaster said.
Feaster's idea is one that the Wings hope will reach all the students, sparking a lifelong love of bicycle riding and other outdoor activities.
"I think this is going to get the whole family up and out of the house and maybe more active and maybe everybody else will go and get bikes, whether it's go and buy new bikes or used bikes," Zajkowski said. "It doesn't matter. A bike is a bike and it doesn't have to be top-notch."
The kids all learned that many hockey players still ride bicycles as adults as part of their normal training regimen.
"As a sports team, as the Detroit Red Wings, we care about health and wellness," Granger said. "So many of our programs with school-age kids are about health and wellness. Bicycling is part of that, of course nutrition is part of that. We want to do things that are authentic to who we are and that make a difference in the community and this is the perfect illustration of that."
In addition to each student receiving a bike, helmet, lock and bell, each of the seven schools participating in the Road and Bicycle Safety Program received bikes, helmets, locks and bells to use to teach more students in the future.
Video: 2019 Road & Bicycle Safety Program