Mae Walters Elementary in Hialeah is surrounded by a working-class neighborhood where English mingles with Spanish, Cuban coffee is the afternoon pick-me-up of choice and, unfortunately, some of the modest homes are in foreclosure.
This is the real world, folks. People here are faced with real-world choices — and I’m not talking about whether to pick a Bentley or a Rolls.
In this area, the choice is sometimes about eating that free breakfast served at the school or starting the day on an empty stomach.
And so Mae Walters is a product of its neighborhood.
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It tries to keep up appearances. It fights the good fight and often attains an A-minus rating. But before Wednesday, the paint was cracking inside and out. The landscape was natty.
The old girl needed some help.
That’s the reason the Miami Dolphins as an organization spent part of day there.
Three hundred Dolphins players, coaches, staff and others arrived at the school early to beautify the school and make Mae Walters proud. Staff drove over from Sun Life Stadium about 25 minutes away. Players, who were surprised to learn practice was called off, boarded four buses and made the 40-minute trek from their training facility.
“We love our community. We love the area where we live,” Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “It’s exciting to help a school that really needed help at this time. I’m excited about the work we’re doing. It’s looking great so far. And I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product.”
Tannehill is Miami’s newly minted $96 million quarterback. But $96 million or not, strong-armed and vital to the team’s success or not, the guy spent an hour landscaping the front of the school.
His No. 17 jersey was soiled from digging and planting by the time he left.
The Dolphins descended on Mae Walters like an army of ants. There was activity everywhere.
Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake painted benches — in Dolphins aqua, of course.
Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey painted a second-floor hallway.
“I haven’t painted since I was a little kid,” Pouncey said, his tattooed arms covered in a different kind of paint. “My assignment today is to make these walls as white as possible, and that’s what I’m doing. It feels like a shoulder workout, so I don’t know if it counts as a workout, but it feels like one.”
Coach Joe Philbin didn’t think it was his place to bark orders as he usually does. He got in the trenches, literally, with the landscape crew for a bit. Then he moved on.
“My grandfather was a painter when he came over from Ireland, so I tried my hand at that,” Philbin said. “It’s good for all of us to get our hands dirty a little bit.”
The Dolphins put over 100 gallons of paint on Mae Walters. They used 200 paint brushes and 100 rollers to do it.
The organization put 200 plants in the 1,000 pounds of soil they brought. The planted a dozen trees. They garnished the grounds with three decorative boulders. They spread 165 bags of mulch. And did I mention the Dolphins spent between $70,000 to $80,000 to do this?
If having a good feeling about spending time serving the community wasn’t a reward, there was a feeling among some in the organization that this day could actually help the team.
“I think it builds team chemistry tremendously because you have a bunch of guys coming together and working together to accomplish one thing,” Pouncey said.
Team-building exercises are nothing new in the NFL. The Bills went bowling together last month. The Patriots, using their expertise, volunteered checking the air pressure and inflating or deflating the tires for gas station patrons one afternoon.
(No, not true. I’m kidding. Couldn’t resist.)
The Dolphins had a kickball game as something of a chemistry builder a couple of weeks ago and that didn’t go quite as hoped because kicker Caleb Sturgis got injured.
But this day went off without a hitch. Practically everyone showed up. Sturgis didn’t reinjure himself. No one asked Tannehill to work with a hammer.
“I’m glad I just got handed a shovel,” he joked.
Everyone was sweating. But no one got hurt.
Even as they were serving the community at Mae Walters, general manager Dennis Hickey and executive vice president Dawn Aponte put the finishing touches on defensive tackle C.J. Mosley’s new one-year deal.
A good day all around.
“We have a really old building,” school principal Milko Brito noted, “and a beautification project like this will really benefit our teachers, students and parents. We’re really excited and appreciative that the district and the Dolphins picked us for this. It really is great.”