Albany Saints Pep Rally Gumbo

Saints mascot Gumbo encourages Albany High school students to cheer during the Saints Prep Rally at Albany High School on Thursday, March 14.

ALBANY -- Members of the “Who Dat” nation marched into Albany High.

Josh Hill, starting tight end for the New Orleans Saints, and Gumbo, the team’s lovable canine mascot, visited Albany High for a spirited Saints-themed pep rally on Thursday, March 14.

The school was awarded the pep rally after winning first place in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ “No Kid Hungry: School Breakfast Challenge,” a contest aimed toward increasing statewide breakfast participation.

Albany High School increased its breakfast participation by a state-leading 65 percent — not including a 56-percent increase in milk consumption. The jolt in breakfast participation topped that of 350 other participating schools across the state.

Eating breakfast has steadily become the norm at Albany High, where approximately 83 percent of the school’s 500 students eat a school-provided breakfast through traditional breakfast services or the “Second Chance Breakfast” program, which the school implemented this year.

Showing her Saints spirit by wearing a white Drew Brees jersey, AHS Principal Kimberly Freeman said the idea of the “Second Chance Breakfast” program came from school board personnel, who brought up the subject before the start of the school year.

Seeing its success last year at French Settlement High, Albany High incorporated the program last August, and now students get to enjoy a mid-morning break to pick up a “grab-and-go” breakfast from a designated area on campus.

“It’s all in the bag for them — they eat that during the break and go back to third hour,” Freeman said. “Students have absolutely loved it. They don’t have to worry about getting here earlier to eat breakfast. We still have breakfast before school, but now, they don’t have to get here before school to get a breakfast. It’s been phenomenal. They love the food and what’s being offered.”

All that led to Thursday’s pep rally in the school’s gym, where New Orleans rapper K. Gates’ unofficial Saints anthem “Black and Gold” blared through the speakers as AHS students took their spots in the stands.

With many dressed in black-and-gold attire, AHS students chanted “Who Dat” when Hill ran through a line of cheerleaders into the gym. Wearing his No. 89 jersey, Hill congratulated the students for winning the contest before sharing stories from his career as well as the importance of healthy eating and staying in school.

After Hill spoke, a few students joined him at center-court and peppered him with a series of questions, which included:

How do you fuel up before a game?

“Depending on what time we play… I start out with a large breakfast, which includes oatmeal, yogurt and eggs. If you play at noon, you only have one meal before that, so it’s important to get a well-balanced breakfast.”

What were your favorite subjects in school?

“I had two favorite subjects in school: No. 1 was science, and then I loved P.E. It sounds silly, but I did. I graduated high school with honors in P.E. I didn’t even know they had that.”

What is your favorite breakfast item?

“My No. 1 favorite is yogurt.”

Any advice for our future?

“Invest now. These are important years, whether you believe it or not, because it can set you up to go on to the next level of whatever you want to do. And never put something off you have time for now.”

Albany Saints Pep Rally ball

One of the prizes during the Saints Prep Rally was a football signed by the entire New Orleans Saints team at Albany High School on Thursday, March 14.

Following the Q&A, Hill and Gumbo threw Saints memorabilia to students in the stands. They also raffled off a few prized collectibles — including a black football with gold signatures from all players on the 2018-19 team that reached the NFC Championship game in January.

“It was phenomenal,” Freeman said. “They were so involved with the kids. Gumbo was hilarious. He was actually licking a few of them, and Josh Hill had some wonderful tips for them on nutrition and academics and staying in school, so it was a great pep rally.”

In both years of the “No Kid Hungry” breakfast challenge, a Livingston Parish school has taken the top honor — North Corbin Junior High last year and Albany High this year. Additionally, French Settlement High scored the highest increase of all high schools in the state last year.

As a whole, roughly 51 percent of the 26,000 students in the Livingston Parish Public Schools system eat a school-provided breakfast daily, or 13,260 students.

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