Editor’s note: Stephanie Delgado contributed to this post. Photo credits: Allen Kee, Mark Tarman.
PHILADELPHIA — Everyone knows that Monday Night Football brings the excitement of football to fans like no other NFL game.
But most fans don’t know that it now kicks off in the daytime through ESPN’s Monday Night Football Chalk Talk program.
The program awards two students who have overcome adversity on or off the field while also excelling in sports, the community and in school with the ESPNHS Rise Above Award.
The Chalk Talk program includes a luncheon, Alumni panel discussion and a tailgate party before the game. The program celebrates its fifth year in 2011.
Harkening back to MNF’s origins when Roone Arledge held small lunches with civic and business leaders to introduce them to the concept of playing football on a Monday night, ESPN later updated the event by incorporating a way to give back to communities while sharing the excitement that the local NFL game brings to town.
The Chalk Talk programs were held at five MNF markets: New York (Giants), Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, and Philadelphia. (The Philadelphia participants are pictured in the photos above).
At each Chalk Talk Rise Above Program, Team ESPN (the network’s corporate outreach arm), the NFL, the local NFL Team, Dick’s Sporting goods (in two markets) and up to 500 fans and local business leaders joined together to honor two local high school student athletes.
Award winners have included a student who has spina bifida yet is a state champion in wheelchair athletics; a young woman who lost 191 pounds to become a leader on her school’s volleyball team; and a young man whose family members are active duty military.
The two students chosen as MNF’s Chalk Talk ESPNHS Rise Above Award received a plaque to commemorate the day, and a $2,000 donation to each of their schools for athletic supplies.
In addition, in two markets a Dick’s Sporting Goods gift certificate was also awarded to the school. Recognizing how important sports can be as a catalyst to better lives for teens, ESPN and the NFL go beyond providing the students with just an award, they provided a day full of activities that the students and their guests will never forget.
Several hours before the program begins, award winners and their classmates were treated to a behind-the-scenes production tour of the event with ESPN staffers who explained their roles in the day’s program.
Following the tour, there was a panel discussion with team representatives, sponsors, and senior executives from the NFL and ESPN. Panelists provided information on career paths, the importance of academics and opportunities in sports — opening up a world of possibilities for careers that the students might not have otherwise known about.
MNF’s Chalk Talk program includes special guests like Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden breaking down the night’s matchup as well as a panel of Alumni Players from the competing teams.
Although there are many high profile guests that participate in the day’s activities, the biggest cheers from the audience are reserved for the true stars—the winners of the ESPNHS Rise Above Award.