A local NFL hall-of-famer called a surprise play on Friday, giving some Hamilton elementary students free Christmas gifts in a pre-paid shopping spree.

Cincinnati Bengals’ great Anthony Muñoz took two dozen boys from a Riverview Elementary mentoring program on a holiday shopping trip at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Fairfield Twp.’s Bridgewater Falls. The store’s managers, working with the Anthony Muñoz Foundation, opened early just for the boys, and then Muñoz surprised them with news on their arrival they would be allowed a lot more than the one free item they had been told to expect.

And that their $200 free tab for each boy had just been raised even higher to $250 by Dick’s.

To put a bow on the surprise, they were also given a $200 Kroger gift card from Muñoz’s foundation.

The Riverview school Royals, boys mentoring club “is a group we wanted to let them come and enjoy shopping for themselves,” said Muñoz as the boys excitedly scrambled through the store aisles.

“This is great and it gives us great pleasure … to be able to take them shopping … and be part of their Christmas,” said Muñoz, whose foundation has decades of experience in helping and working with youth in Greater Cincinnati.

He praised the many individual and business donors that covered the costs — through the foundation — along with crediting Dick’s management team with making it all happen.

But his highest compliment was for the well-behaved, big-hearted boys and many whom looked beyond themselves and insisted on getting gifts for their families.

“So many of the kids we work with — when we give them an opportunity like this — they say ‘I have a couple of siblings and I’m going to buy for them too,’” he said. “That’s how thoughtful and appreciative these kids are and that’s what makes it even better.”

Riverview 5th-grader Michel Almaraz was in happy disbelief as he made his way through the store.

“I never knew things like this could happen. I’ve never felt like this,” said Almaraz as he eyed some of his purchases, including a pair of soccer cleats.

“I’ve been needing these for about two years.”

Riverview Principal Josh Margerum marveled at the boys and their joy.

“For the last few years we had a partnership with the Anthony Muñoz Foundation and it has been an awesome partnership for our school. They (the boys) attend his camp each year and we told Mr. Muñoz about a mentorship program (with adult male volunteers) we started at our school,” Margerum said.

“And he said he wanted to take them Christmas shopping. So we partnered with Dick’s Sporting Goods and they have been generous and opened the store up early … and giving us discounted prices.”

“When we told the boys it was ($250), they really couldn’t comprehend how much money that was and some of them had said they just wanted to get a basketball and we said you can get more than just a basketball and it was great seeing their reaction,” Margerum said.

“Honestly this is the best thing to happen right before the holidays. Some of them I’ve never seen them smile this much.”

For more information on the Anthony Muñoz Foundation go to the organization’s website, munozfoundation.org.

Photojournalist Nick Graham contributed to this story.

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