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Browns help playground come to life in 1 day at Cleveland elementary school

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Standing at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds and sporting a full beard, John Greco's recess days are pretty far behind him, but the memories haven't gone anywhere.

"Going out for recess and playing on the playground," Greco said, "was like my top priority."

Recess is still a priority for Greco – just not his own. The eight-year NFL veteran was one of a dozen Browns players who volunteered to build a playground for the 17th annual Hometown Huddle, a league-wide partnership between NFL teams and their local United Way chapters in association with Republic Services.

On an absolutely pristine early autumn day – leaves on the ground, low 70's weather and not a cloud in sight – the courtyard at Cleveland's Dike School of the Arts was filled with the sounds of power tools and eager chatter.

Before Tuesday's event, the school did not have a play structure. Recesses for the more than 300 students – pre-kindergarten through sixth grade – were spent on a concrete lot.

That's no longer the case.

More than 100 volunteers – players, executives and other employees – came together to transform the school's central courtyard into a child's dream.

"Because we're an art school, sometimes we don't have physical education supplies," said teacher Christie Ellis. "It's nice to see a place where they can play and be safe and all that stuff.

"They're so excited, their faces are just lighting up with joy."

The students weren't the only ones who were awestruck by new playground.

"It's beautiful. It's colorful," Browns defensive back Johnson Bademosi said. "There's plenty of different spaces if you want to go down the slide, or swing, or climb rocks, or just sit and read – there's plenty of space to do anything."

It's a space Principal Alisha Evans always wanted, although she couldn't have imagined anything on this scale. She'd see schools winning new playgrounds on the news and think, "Why not us?"

When she found out that Dike School for the Arts had won a new playground, she was elated.

"I was like 'Oh my gosh,' because we've never had (a playground) in the history of the school," she said. "Just picturing it there and seeing it all come to fruition is just wonderful."

United Way, the Browns and more than 100 volunteers built a playground at the Dike School of the Arts in Cleveland for the 17th annual Hometown Huddle in association with Republic Services

The final result is breathtaking – featuring new stonework and walking paths, various wall-sized, Browns-themed murals, and several large planters brimming with flowers. But naturally, the gorgeous new playground structure stole the show.

Assembling such an impressive structure in just one day is no small task – but having NFL muscle doing the heavy lifting definitely sped up the process.

Joining Greco and Bademosi were the following 11 Browns: Charley Hughlett, Malcolm Johnson, Ibraheim Campbell, Erle Ladson, John Hughes, Desmond Bryant, Scott Solomon, Craig Robertson, Taylor Gabriel, Christian Kirksey and Hayes Pullard. General manager Ray Farmer kicked off the day with opening remarks and got the work alongside a number of Browns executives

Greco helped with the structure's foundation – putting in the posts and helping lay the groundwork – or as he called it, the "meat and potatoes." Hughes helped tie up some loose ends – drilling bolts, mostly. He and Bryant also helped assemble the very top part of the playground. It was quite a sight for the students to see the two, 300-plus pound linemen carrying intricate metalwork effortlessly across the courtyard.

And, of course, Bademosi helped test out how structurally sound the new playground was by climbing on top of it and testing out the slide with Kirksey, Robertson and Gabriel.

With all of the excitement going on in the courtyard – buzzsaws cutting up wood, pick axes breaking up concrete and NFL players walking around – Evans had her work cut out for her in keeping the students focused. With courtyard access restricted for the day, many of the students couldn't help but peek out the window to catch a glimpse of what was happening.

When the time finally came for the unveiling, the students rushed the courtyard to check our their new digs and mingle with the players. The excitement struck a chord with Bademosi.

"When I was younger, if I saw an NFL player, I would be elated," he said. "In my head they were just like giants. When I was younger, to see them come to where I was and talk to me, that meant a lot to me."

So, Bademosi was in his element, joking around with the kids, asking about their days and hobbies. For him and his teammates, events like this are a bit of a calling – and they feel an obligation to give back.

"We talk so much in meetings – as it relates to football – about being productive," Bademosi said. "For me, production isn't just about football – it's about being a productive member of society, whether it's building a park, or visiting a cancer patient, or just giving someone a positive word of advice. I think it's important."

Hughes also expressed a similar worldview and a desire to use his platform as an NFL player to spread the #give10 spirit.

"It's a great initiative, giving ten [hours] back, you want to make it contagious," Hughes said. "Giving back – being able to spread it – hopefully it catches on."

It certainly caught on Tuesday, and for Evans and her students, the sheer volume of volunteers made this a truly memorable afternoon.

"Seeing so many different people from the community working for them has just been overwhelming for them," Evans said.

"Meeting everybody, they're so sincere, they're genuine. They're really excited about giving back and helping."


*Each Tuesday, the players' day off, the Browns continue their commitment to #give10 and are engaged in the community throughout the season. The Cleveland Browns First and Ten campaign was established to inspire fans to volunteer in their communities throughout the world for 10 hours each year. Through First and Ten, the Browns are the only NFL club to promote a long-term volunteering program that unifies the team and its entire fan base, with the goal of impacting every individual's city across the globe, as well as the franchise's local community. *

Other partners of the Browns: Step 2, Sherwin-Williams, FirstEnergy and Papa Johns also helped make this day possible through their donations/support.

The best photos of the week, featuring highlights from the game on Sunday, the halftime recognition of Mack and Byner, and the community event on Tuesday.

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