Patrick Wirth, a fourth grade teacher at Union Pleasant Elementary, was presented with a $1,000 check and visited by Buffalo Bills player Mario Williams for being the grand prize winner of M&T Bank’s “Touchdown for Teachers” program.
HAMBURG — The voices of 770 elementary students screamed out the “Let’s go Buffalo” chant as they waited for Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams to walk through the hallways of Union Pleasant Elementary School in Hamburg on May 22.
“Touchdown for Teachers” is a nomination-based program orchestrated by M&T Bank. Honorees were chosen based on their involvment in the school and community, their degree of positive impact and demonstrated education commitment.
Patrick Wirth, a fourth grade teacher at that school, was nominated for the fifth annual program by one of his students, 10-year-old Kai Severson.
According to Severson, he nominated Wirth “because he’s an awesome teacher.”
Five Western New York finalists received two game tickets to the Buffalo Bills versus New York Jets game, pregame access, recognition via the video screen and an official Bills football.
Mario Williams (right) posed for a photo with Wirth (left) and Kai Severson (center) who nominated his fourth grade teacher.
The grand prize winner received a $1,000 grant to the school – Wirth will decide what the money will fund – and a meet-and-greet with a football player from the Buffalo Bills.
Wirth was recognized for putting together a Bulldogs Pencil Shop, which sells school supplies; extra funds earned from the shop go toward a project, for the year.
Previously, his students used that money to develop a memorial piece for the late Amy Low, a Union Pleasant art teacher who died in 2011. Profits have also went toward helping those affected by Hurricane Sandy in the Staten Island area in addition to people of Kigali, Rwanda.
As a master’s class teacher at Canisius College in Buffalo, Wirth also organizes a Canisius for Kids program, which is an interdisciplinary summer camp for children that teaches the history of Buffalo.
“Being able to recognize a talented and dedicated teacher like Patrick Wirth is an honor for the Buffalo Bills,” said Bills Chief Revenue Officer Bruce Popko.
Every member of the school gathered to welcome Williams. Many students adorned Bills gear or red and blue attire in preparation for the visit.
He walked through the winding halls up to Wirth’s classroom, where he took a seat and had a Q&A with only Wirth’s students. Billy Buffalo, the mascot, stood by the player’s side.
The students went around the room asking questions.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters? Did you always get along with them?”
Williams responded, “I have two brothers and one sister. I can’t say I always get along with them ... You always have differences, but they’re still your brothers or sisters.”
A student asked him what his favorite food is, to which he answered, “Pot roast.”
He spoke to the classroom about school and said that he enjoyed getting an education, and being stimulated and challenged. Students learned that his favorite subject in school was math and the most difficult for him was Spanish.
Another student asked, “Do you ever get nervous during or before a game, and if so how do you overcome it?”
“Yes, I do get nervous. And I believe that sometimes nervousness is good, because it gets you amped up and ready to play ... I really don’t say I overcome it. I say I use it. You just go out there and clear your nerves,” Williams said. “You’re going to have some type of jitters, but when you can use that to get you going ... It’s fun for me. I enjoy it.”
One fourth grader asked him a question about bullying, and Williams said, “I treat people equally and I always stay down to earth. I’ve always not just stood up for myself but for everybody else.”
A student asked him, “How does it feel to become a Bills player because I know it’s my dream to become one.”
Williams said, “Anytime that you can do something that you love, I say, don’t do anything that you don’t love. You should have a passion for something. ... It was a great opportunity to come here and the guys and the teammates, they’re phenomenal. I would say it’s just like you guys playing out on the playground. You get a bond and a tight group.”
More questions intrigued Williams about his hopes and dreams, and what it is like to grow up and become a professional football player.
“What motivates you to try hard whenever you’re on the field?”
“The biggest motivator I have on the field. or in life in general, like you guys in your school, is outperforming myself ... Doing better than what you did before. I never really focused on anybody else. I just try to do better than I do, and you always improve.”
The students learned that his biggest inspiration is his mother.
“My mom has been the backbone of my family. My parents were divorced ever since I can remember,” Williams said. “You know seeing her and what she did for us – me and my siblings – it inspired me to work hard and you know just, make something out of myself, regardless of the situation.”
After answering questions, Williams went around the room to sign jerseys and footballs, high-five and hug the students.
Members of M&T Bank then presented a check to Wirth.
“I’m kind of in charge of the technology department for our school. So we’re thinking of using it to buy some more equipment for our school, so that the kids can have some laptops or iPads,” Wirth said.
One of his students approached his teacher and asked how much his hat, now signed by Williams, is worth.
“Well, I don’t think we worry about that. It’s got sentimental value to go well beyond your years, my friend,” Wirth responded, with a smile.
While taking a photo with Williams, the room grew quiet. One student whispered, “You’re the best teacher.” Wirth laughed and said back in just as quiet a tone, “That was the best whisper.”
Union Pleasant Elementary is located at 150 Pleasant Ave. in Hamburg.