William Howard Taft Elementary principal Dr. Jonathan Brown with the Bengals principals, Domata Peko (left) and Andrew Whitworth.
Down through the years Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth has helped build an urban planner's brief case full of parks, playgrounds, and planters. And as he paused while he worked on another one Tuesday, he wondered.
"I've driven by a lot them now," says Whitworth, celebrating the 10th anniversary of his rookie season. "And I think, that's about seven years ago, how much have they enjoyed that spot? Do they even know the guys that came to work on it? You don't realize how long it's been."
If he talks to Jonathan Brown, he knows exactly what the students of William Howard Taft Elementary School are going to think about his handiwork and that of his teammates. The Bengals participated in the NFL's annual Hometown Huddle and with the usual combo block from the Marvin Lewis Community Fund they spent the day with scores of volunteers building the school the playground it never had.
Dr. Brown is the principal of the school named for a Mount Auburn kid who went all the White House. A life-long Cincinnatian who followed Taft to Woodward High school, Brown is hoping the Bengals go all the way, too. But that's not why he came out of his office to greet and thank the players in a Bengals ball cap.
"I go back to when Ken Anderson was throwing touchdown passes to Isaac Curtis. I remember Boom-Boom Boobie Clark and Pete Johnson," Brown says. "I think it's more about just the team. It's the team effort. This is so much more important than whatever they do on the football field. It's nice they're having a good season, but this makes the season even better."
Suffice to say this is the first Hometown Huddle the Bengals have staged unbeaten, but that didn't appear to cut into what is always healthy attendance.
As they always do, Andy and Jordan Dalton showed up ready to work. He took time out from re-arranging the NFL passing rankings to helping put together some stairs on one of the many platforms comprising the large play apparatus dominating the playground.
"For me growing up, the best time in elementary school was on the playground. Recess and stuff like that," Dalton says of the days at Katy Elementary in Texas. "It's hard to imagine kids not having something like that."
On Sunday, left guard Clint Boling helped keep the dangerous Seattle defensive line at bay. On Tuesday he was helping work on a fence that would also offer some protection. Right end Michael Johnson, who helped the Bengals defense shovel out of Sunday's hole with a great last 26 minutes, dug a hole for a new tree. After taking another huge step in his growth as a dominant tight end, Tyler Eifert helped plant a garden.
"Somebody's got to get dirty," says Johnson, mopping his brow.
Anna and Domata Peko, also celebrating their 10th anniversary in the NFL, have been here before. Peko crisply asks for a ratchet while Anna puts her gloves on to help carry some boards. They've taken their three kids back to some of the other places they've Hometown Huddled.
"We show them the stones," Domata Peko says of the bricks that have each player's name. "We explain to them this is what we built. Lending a hand. Helping the community. They look pretty good. We know what to do with those nuts and bolts."
For Dr. Jonathan Brown, those nuts and bolts hold together the good work.
"It means people care," Dr. Brown says. "They care about the students and the Mount Auburn community and the Cincinnati public schools. This apparatus is not only for our students, but it's a place where people from the community can come gather after school. There isn't anything like this in Mount Auburn."
Dr. Brown invited Whitworth and tackle Eric Winston to come read to his students.
"The principal's office isn't what it used to be," he tells them. "I call them in sometimes so they can read to me. You're always welcome."
Dr. Brown, Cincinnati all the way from South Avondale to Woodward to Mount St. Joseph's College as well as the University of Cincinnati, already gave them the book on the Bengals.
"I told them that the Marvin Lewis Fund, Hometown Huddle, and the Cincinnati Bengals have invested in them," Dr. Brown says. "We have to make sure that we take care of what has been gifted to us."
The next time he drives by here, that is going to make the kid from Claiborne Elementary in West Monroe, La., feel pretty good.
"Always leave it better than you found it,' Whitworth says.
On a day the 5-0 sun shone with all kind of possibilities, he could have been talking about just about anything and everything.
Marvin Lewis Community Fund host Hometown Huddle event at William Howard Taft Elementary School in Cincinnati, OH. 10/13/2015