ASHLAND, Mass. – Friday’s Five Town School Day of Special Olympics games at Ashland High School promised to be a special event. It always is.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, as he often does, took it to a higher level.
Gronkowski’s presence, which was a surprise, had everyone buzzing – from the athletes participating to kindhearted volunteers and spectators who were snapping pictures with their cell phones in a frenzy.
Gronkowski spent two hours with students from Ashland, Holliston, Medfield, Medway and Millis -- five towns in the western suburbs of Boston -- running an obstacle course called “Gridiron Gronk.”
As is his way, Gronkowski didn’t just oversee the obstacle course. He actively participated, at one point jumping on to a cushion at the end as if he was lunging over the goal line.
Rob Gronkowski leads a Special Olympics athlete through obstacle course and then dives himself at end. pic.twitter.com/uG8fn1rIbQ— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) April 1, 2016
Moments later, Gronkowski implored one of the athletes to attempt one of his patented touchdown spikes. Then Gronkowski did it himself, which he later admired.
“It almost hit the ceiling,” he said, smiling.
For all his partying and well-publicized endorsements, Gronkowski is also generous of his time in the community. Pointing out that he built up a sweat at Friday’s event, he explained why he wanted to be involved.
“It’s just a great event overall,” he said. “We had obstacle courses. We had the Brady throw and pass. We had the Edelman catching drill. … It’s great to give back like this and see those kids smiling out there. What was really cool about this event is that it was interactive.”
Gronkowski led the athletes in an opening parade as the event got underway at 9:30 a.m., and then directed stretching exercises before opening remarks. He was joined by teammates Geneo Grissom (2015 third-round draft choice) and A.J. Derby (2015 sixth-round draft choice) as there were eight different games/challenges spread across the gymnasium.
Progression of pics with second-year DE Geneo Grissom captures essence of the Special Olympics event. pic.twitter.com/kIzJjzu3mO— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) April 1, 2016
Second-year TE A.J. Derby is also here this morning at Massachusetts Special Olympics event. pic.twitter.com/VoAvYJTLEI— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) April 1, 2016
As the event wound down, Gronkowski exited and many raced after him, asking for his autograph. Reporters followed him out and he agreed to answer questions about the event, saying he would address football-specific topics at another time.
When one reporter later attempted to ask him about the acquisition of tight end Martellus Bennett, Gronkowski smiled and said, “I’m here for the kids, baby.”
Then he walked away.
That left Derby, his teammate, to deliver one of the more humorous lines of the day. When asked what it has been like adjusting to being somewhat of a celebrity in this type of setting, Derby was quick with the response.
“I don’t think anyone knew who I was,” he said. “As soon as Rob walked in, I was just like in the background.”
It would have happened to most anyone.
Everyone, it seems, can’t get enough of Rob Gronkowski.