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Hines Ward finds fan at Apollo-Ridge

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007

Drew Hreha has a new friend.

And although his friend doesn't ride a school bus daily, he does encourage children throughout the Pittsburgh region to join after-school programs.

Hreha's new friend is Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward.

"This is really exciting," said Drew, 9. "I have a real NFL player and the Super Bowl XL MVP at school with me."

Drew, a third-grader at Apollo-Ridge Elementary School in Spring Church, Kiski Township, won the opportunity to take Ward to school after entering a contest this summer on NFLRush.com.

The contest, "NFL Take a Player to School," is sponsored by the JCPenney Afterschool Fund and the National Football League.

It promotes after-school activities that give children a chance to develop healthy lifestyles, improve social skills and enhance academic performances.

Apollo-Ridge Elementary School received a $1,000 grant to help support school and after-school programs.

Drew's parents, Ron and Joanne Hreha, learned that Drew was the lucky winner about a month ago.

"When my mom told me, all I kept saying was, 'Are you serious?' " Drew said.

In addition to taking Ward to school, Drew also won Steelers apparel and a football signed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

After showing Ward his bedroom and baseball trophies at the family home in North Apollo, Drew, his younger brother, 5-year-old Zach, and Ward jumped into a black limo and were chauffeured to the elementary school.

While at the school, Drew accompanied Ward as he walked the halls greeting more than 600 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

But it was in Drew's third-grade classroom where Ward told the students which rival teams to "boo hard."

Students dressed in black and gold assembled in the gymnasium to officially greet Ward and learn more about him, eating healthy and the importance of physical education.

"My message really is to encourage kids to join after-school programs and participate in physical education," Ward said. "They need to just enjoy being a kid. What better way to do that than by kicking it here with my friend Drew?"

Ward led Drew's third-grade class in stretching and gave them an opportunity to show off their best end zone victory dances.

"Today we are wide receivers," Ward said, "... and I want to see your best dance when you make a touchdown."

After catching and then spiking the ball, Drew kneeled on one knee and played the football like a rock star would play a guitar solo.

Ward promised him he would do the same victory dance if he scores on Sunday against the New York Jets.

He rounded out his visit by giving the children a chance to make a debut on the NFL Network.

While doing a television interview, Ward introduced Drew and his classmates to millions of football fans throughout the United States.

"You are all superstars now," Ward joked.

"We are real proud of Drew and this couldn't have happened to a nicer kid," Drew's father said. "I never thought I would have an NFL player in my living room."

Kids cover Hines Ward

The children of Apollo-Ridge Elementary School were able to ask Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward questions during his visit.

Here are a few that Ward entertained.

When did you first start playing football? "I started playing in the sixth grade. I can remember the first time I took a hard hit I almost cried."

What college did you go to? "The University of Georgia."

How many interceptions have you had in your NFL career? "I don't do interceptions ... I do touchdowns. I have had 62 touchdowns in my career."

Are you nervous before games? "I am nervous before every game. I try to go out there and give it all I've got."

Do you have any pets? "I had a goldfish at one time. I want a dog but I'm never around."

Who is your best friend on the team? "Everybody is my friend. I get along with Ben (Roethlisberger), Troy (Polamalu), Casey Hampton, and Santonio (Holmes)."

What do you eat before games? "Sushi."

Who was your roommate at training camp? "Deshea Townsend."

How long does it take for Polamalu to dry his hair? "I don't know. Probably about an hour or so."

Who is your role model? "Drew (Hreha) is my role model!"

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