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NFL names its Teacher of the Year

(This story is online at http://www.nfl.com/news/story/8108482)

(Jan. 17, 2005) -- Wanda Benkovic, a teacher at Holy Spirit School in Allentown, Pa., has been named the 2004 NFL Teacher of the Year, the NFL announced. Tight end Tony Stewart of the Cincinnati Bengals, nominated Benkovic, his former teacher.

Benkovic will receive a $5,000 award and a $10,000 award will be presented to Holy Spirit School, both from NFL Charities. Benkovic also will travel to the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii, in February as a guest of the NFL and will be honored during a pregame ceremony Feb. 13.

Benkovic, 52, lives in Bethlehem, Pa., and has a master's in theological studies from Moravian Seminary.

Her approach in the classroom is to teach more than just math and science. According to Benkovic, she provides her students a good academic foundation, but strives to also instill self-confidence and respect.

"I was one of 21 students in Mrs. Benkovic's third-grade class, but she was always there to give me the extra attention I needed," said Stewart. "She had creative ways of teaching us about different cultures and believing in ourselves."

Benkovic said Stewart, who just finished his third season with the Bengals and fourth in the NFL, was an A-student, well-behaved and very respectful.

In 1990, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL clubs created the NFL Teacher of the Year award.

"The aim of the award is to honor and recognize teachers and to encourage our young fans to think of teachers, as well as athletes, as role models," said Commissioner Tagliabue.

One reward Stewart earned for being nominated for the 2003 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year last season was to be one of the 32 players eligible to nominate a past teacher for the 2004 NFL Teacher of the Year Award.

Stewart is actively involved in the community. His teammates call him "Mr. Community." Throughout the year, Stewart talks to student athletes about the importance of education, and mental and physical conditioning; gives motivational talks to youngsters at a local juvenile detention center; and twice a month participates in a tutorial session with Minorities in Mathematics, Science and Engineering (M2SE), where through activities, experiments, observation and research projects he encourages students to explore career opportunities in the fields of math and science.

Formed in 1973, NFL Charities, the flagship of NFL giving, is a nonprofit organization that enables NFL teams and players to contribute collectively to charitable and worthwhile causes on a national level. NFL Charities donates nearly $10 million in grants annually and since its inception has awarded more than $70 million in grants to more than 250 different organizations.