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Bengals huddle to help

10-8-02, 7:35 p.m.


Danny Farmer has been fighting a bad knee and when he woke up Tuesday morning, he creaked and groaned and didn't really want to be in Mount Healthy at 10:30.

But by the time of the lunch-hour cookout with the kids at Hope Academy, Farmer knew why he got out of bed. He was having a blast, the kids were great, and he threw the tying touchdown with a tipped Hail Mary on the last play of the 20-on-20 flag football game.

"I had to do it on fourth down because OG called me out of bounds on second down," said Farmer of teammate Oliver Gibson, the game's referee. "No way. But the kids were great. Kids are always great. It was nice to be with them and to be able to hang out with some of the guys."

The Bengals observed the NFL's "Hometown Huddle," Tuesday by landscaping an area in front of the administration building for the school that offers at-risk middle and high school students an alternative with smaller, specialized classrooms. Players from all 32 teams fanned into their communities to offer helping hands to United Way for a day.

"(Farmer) and the other guys got the easy job just planting the flowers," said rookie left tackle Levi Jones. "We were

on the other side digging out the grass and we were working it pretty hard."

Jones is kidding, of course, and the heavy lifting didn't bother him. As a kid back in Arizona, he had done the same type of work with his grandfather's vines and fruits.

"It wasn't all that hard, but the thing was being with the kids and being able to give something back. It was nice to get away like that."

Also on the job were Brandon Bennett, Artrell Hawkins, JoJuan Armour, Chris Edmonds, and Dwayne Levels. Jones, Hawkins, and Levels, along with Eric Ball, the club's director of player relations, dug up a grassy spot, leveled it off, and mulched before a bench was placed in the area. The others mulched and planted mums in a nearby bed.

"The kids seemed to like the game the best," Ball said. "I think that's what they're going to remember about the day the most. How those guys went out there and played football with them."

They also had some things to say. Jones noticed Edmonds had a pretty good idea when he was approached for some autographs.

"There were some pants hanging down low and Chris told them there was no more room for that gang-sta stuff," Jones said. "That it's not the in-thing to do anymore and he wasn't going to sign until the pants were pulled up."

The players also each painted a circular steppingstone to be placed in a path leading to the bench. Gibson, the team's resident recording industry guru, earned the most creative points. He painted orange inside a black circle and put a dot in the middle along with his signature to make it look like one of those old-fashioned record albums.

Levels drew a dog on his stone along with his number, and Jones and Farmer left hand prints next to their signatures and numbers.

"Just like back in grade school," Farmer said. "Just put the hand in paint. It was fun. It's one of those things you're just glad you did it."

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