SLANT 45 participants get a night to celebrate accomplishments

DALLAS -- Wednesday was a school night, but thousands of North Texas elementary school kids might be forgiven if they didn't get their homework done.

The North Texas Super Bowl Host Committee rewarded participants in the SLANT 45 community service program by throwing a party at American Airlines Center.

Billed as the Kids Bowl Bash, it featured American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, Disney Channel star Mitchel Musso and former President George W. Bush, who, with his wife, Laura, are honorary chairs of SLANT 45.

But the real stars were the 15,121 kids who attended and kept the decibel level up with ear-piercing screams and chants of "We are SLANT 45! We are SLANT 45!"

About 44,000 kids participated in SLANT 45, twice as many as the goal set by the host committee and Big Thought, the Dallas-based nonprofit that creates learning opportunities for kids.

Participants logged 440,000 service hours, completing projects such as raising money through cookie sales and lemonade stands for other children in need, conducting toy and clothing drives, beautifying parks and recreation areas, eliminating graffiti, and helping the elderly.

"This was a great way to showcase the power of children," said Gigi Antoni of Big Thought. "When I heard we were trying to get 20,000 kids, I was scared. It sounded really ambitious.

"But this took on an energy of its own. It was a grassroots movement of kids. And raises the profile of what they can do."

The kids gave Bush a rousing teen-idol welcome as he ambled on stage, dressed in a checked shirt, no tie and blue blazer.

"I thank you for your hard work, and praise you for serving someone other than yourself," he said. "I want you to work hard in school, read more than you watch TV and continue to help someone in need."

There were video testimonials from Laura Bush, the Harlem Globetrotters and the Jonas Brothers, and appearances by Cowboys legends Roger Staubach, chairman of the host committee, and Troy Aikman.

Daryl Johnston, the former Cowboys star who is chairman of SLANT 45, marveled at what the kids accomplished. "It reinstills the faith we have in them," he said. "There are good kids out there."

Johnston even submitted to a dunking tank. He changed into shorts and a T-shirt and let three kids take a shot making a big splash.

Johnston hit the water three times, twice when the kids missed their mark. Former Cowboy Drew Pearson was behind the curtain, ensuring Johnston would be all wet.

But the big favorites were Sparks and Musso, both of whom performed.

Pete Alfano, 817-390-7985