Packers legend Donald Driver overwhelmed by reception from John Long Middle School students, teachers who earned visit with Goodwill collection effort
Donald Driver caught 61 touchdown passes in his illustrious career, but the Green Bay Packers standout never scored more points than he did Tuesday morning at John Long Middle School in Grafton.
After making his way through a wildly cheering crowd of students and staff members at an assembly to celebrate the schoolâs victory in a Goodwill Industries donation contest, Driver was quick to return the favor.
âThis is the best welcome I have ever received,â said Driver, flashing his trademark smile as he addressed the crowd. âI have never seen anything like this.â
The Packersâ all-time receiving leader, who retired after the 2012 season, was expected to spend a half-hour or so at John Long as the schoolâs reward for winning the Packâer Up Donation Challenge to benefit Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin.
Instead, Driverâs visit lasted well over an hour, as he stayed to pose for pictures, sign autographs and congratulate scores of adoring fans, many of whom donned Packers jerseys.
During the April contest, the Grafton school donated 78,022 items to the agency, including gently used clothes, toys, games, housewares and other items for needy families. That total was nearly double the second-place effort in the competition, which attracted more than 860 elementary and middle schools.
For the grand prize, John Long received a personal appearance from Driver, who serves as a Goodwill spokesperson, as well as 12 autographed copies of his popular childrenâs book and a Packers helmet he signed.
âYou collected 78,000 items. I donât know how you could do it,â Driver told the crowd during an all-school assembly attended by more than 470 students, teachers and staff.
Driver said he was wowed by the schoolâs donation effort as well as his reception, which included spectators along Highway 60 and outside Grafton schools who held welcome banners, waved and cheered as his limousine passed on its way to John Long. Immediately after entering the gymnasium, he scampered into the bleachers to exchange high fives and hugs with students.
During the assembly, Driver thanked the students, noting that their achievement reflected a special measure of concern for others less fortunate than themselves.
âIt doesnât stop now. This is just the beginning,â he said. âItâs not all about receiving. Itâs about giving.â
The program included an extended question-and-answer period, during which 30 eighth-grade students queried Driver on topics ranging from his childhood to playing-day thrills to motivation for helping others. He was also asked about teaming with Peta Murgatroyd to win televisionâs âDancing With the Starsâ last year.
Driver responded with an impromptu demonstration of dance moves, enlisting unsuspecting teacher Elisabeth Schalk as his partner. Schalk and fellow teacher Beth Anzia organized the schoolâs collection campaign with the help of principal Greg Kabara and other staff members.
Driver concluded the program by telling his John Long fans, âIt is truly an honor to be here today and see what you have done.â
Kabara was impressed with the Packer legendâs visit, noting it will be long remembered by everyone. After taking the top prize in its first Packâer Up Challenge attempt, he said, the school had only six days to prepare for Driverâs arrival, including organizing a program and making decorations.
âEverything went so well. It was just a great experience,â Kabara said.
âOur school did a terrific job, but it was also the community that supported the collection drive. We canât thank them enough.â
Schalk attributed the success to motivated students.
âYou can always tell kids, âYou can do anything if you put your mind to it,â but this really showed it,â she said. âWe had 476 students say, âYes we can.ââ
In winning the contest, John Long beat out many larger schools in bigger communities, said Pat Boelter, Goodwill chief marketing officer.
âJohn Long School just worked harder than everyone else,â Boelter said. âAnd the assembly is one of the best Iâve seen.â
Having one of Wisconsinâs most popular sports celebrities in their gym was the biggest thrill of the school year for most of the students. But several eighth-graders said they were even more taken by the way Driver conducted himself.
âHe was really down to earth. It felt like he was one of us,â Chad Dickmann said.
For student Abigail Valerius, the Packâer Up Challenge wasnât just about rubbing shoulders with a Super Bowl champion.
âWe worked so hard to win this because we wanted to help people,â she said. âEveryone who gave something is a winner.â
Image Information: GREEN BAY PACKERS star Donald Driver joined a throng of cheering students at John Long Middle School in Grafton Tuesday for a group photo. Students earned the visit from Driver by winning Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsinâs Packâer Up Donation Challenge. Photo by Sam Arendt