Thirty first- and second-graders at Birdwell Elementary School surprise early Christmas presents Wednesday morning.

The youngsters, selected from among the student population by faculty and staff at the school, filed into the auditorium to find their parents, a group of strangers and the curtains on the stage closed. Shortly the curtains rose and the looks of curiosity turned to joy as each student saw his or her brand new bicycle and safety helmet, courtesy of the Academy Sports+Outdoor company and a program its run for 14 years.

"The premise is to get kids outside and to be active in the community," Michelle Threadgill, manager of the Academy store on South Broadway Avenue in Tyler, said. "To get them outside, active and enjoying the outdoors."

Academy has given an average of 30 bicycles to students in a school in each of 120 markets for about the past 14 years, Ms. Threadgill said. This year, it is giving away about 3,600 bicycles. The Tyler store has been participating for eight years, she said.

Staff from the local store were on hand to help each child find their bicycle - sporty black and red for the boys and pastel pink, blue and white for the girls - and to fit each child with a safety helmet. The students promised to wear helmets and ride safely each time they ride.

Later in the day, Principal Donna Bundy said her students still hadn't calmed down from the surprise Wednesday morning. It was the first time Birdwell Elementary had been selected to participate in the program, Mrs. Bundy said.

"It's just unbelievable," she said. "They've never had anything given to them like this before. They didn't even really think it was for them. They were so surprised."

Mrs. Bundy and school staff called parents of each of the 30 recipients on Tuesday, letting them know about the gift, and inviting them to attend. Parents were also sworn to secrecy to preserve the surprise.

"The parents were equally excited," Mrs. Bundy said. "This was a first for us. I'm excited for my students to get something that's beneficial for their health and an enjoyable thing, to get them outside and playing."

 

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