Student to studentThe students in Lori Foley’s third-grade class at Northern Lights Elementary School bubbled over with excitement mid-month.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The students in Lori Foley’s third-grade class at Northern Lights Elementary School bubbled over with excitement mid-month.
They clamored to hold the baseball bat and gloves being passed around and stared at their two visitors with admiration. University of Wisconsin-Superior baseball players Joe Statz and Alex Beers took the excitement in stride, making small talk with the students before sitting down to read two baseball-themed books.
The third-graders listened quietly to the stories, but they seemed more interested in the athletes than the books.
During the question and answer session following the reading, the students finally had a chance to vent their curiosity and peppered the UWS athletes with questions: How old are you? How tall are you? What’s your ERA?
Beer and Statz fielded the questions with a smile and gave the students high-fives before leaving the classroom.
“I coached Little League baseball in the summer, so I coached from kindergarten to eighth-grade,” Statz said. “I got quite a few questions there too.”
The athletes volunteered as part of a new reading program UWS began this fall.
“The idea is to get across to the kids that reading is fun and is something that you use every day,” said Steve Nelson, UWS athletics director. “You see these student-athletes who are in college, reading on a daily basis and we hope that it gets across to the kids and they begin to read every day as well.”
The program benefits the athletes as well, giving them a chance to become more involved in the community and get a feel for Superior.
Statz and Beers are new to the Yellowjacket baseball team this season. Beers is a freshman, and Statz transferred to UWS from St. Cloud Technical and Community College.
Both men are originally from Minnesota, but they felt right at home with the Northern Lights students Friday.
Statz led off by asking the kids which team they preferred, the Twins or the Brewers. The third-graders shouted in favor of the Twins, which surprised Statz but gave him some common ground to build upon.
He then proceeded to read a “Berenstain Bears” story, and Beers followed with a book on Major League Baseball.
As Beers read, he occasionally inserted facts about the MLB teams pictured, to the wonderment of some students.
“How do you know all of this?” one girl asked.
The boy sitting next to her looked up at Beers and offered a matter-of-fact answer: “He plays baseball.”
Down another hallway, former Spartan Dustin Ritchie read to Mrs. Heier’s kindergarten class.
One of the young students recognized Ritchie as a basketball player, but for the most part, the kids were more interested in the stories than the Yellowjacket athlete sitting before them.
Ritchie read two Halloween themed books: “Pumpkin, Pumpkin” and “Clifford’s First Halloween.” As soon as he opened the first book, the kids were hooked.
“They were just really into the story,” Ritchie said. “They were ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ a lot.”
A 2008 graduate of Superior High School, Ritchie jumped at the opportunity to volunteer when his coach asked him. Ritchie attended Four Corners Elementary School as a child and remembers sixth-grade students visiting his class to read.
He hoped he also made a good impression on the kindergarten students he visited.
“If they ask me to come back, I would love to come back. Absolutely,” Ritchie said.
In the past two weeks, players from the basketball, baseball, women’s soccer and men’s hockey teams have stopped by to read to students. The UWS athletes have visited about a half dozen classes so far, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The feedback that we have had since we started in the schools has been remarkable,” Nelson said. “If it was possible, I think we could have one of our student-athletes in a classroom every day. The teachers love the idea of having our student-athletes come in and be positive role models for their kids, so there really have been no negatives.”
At this point, the Yellowjacket athletes are only scheduled visited the two elementary schools closest to the UWS campus — Northern Lights and Great Lakes. But with the early success of the program, it may be expanded in the future.
“If the early signs are any indication, this is a program that we will stay with for the long haul, and it is only going to continue to grow and improve,” Nelson said. “I’m excited about the future of it and seeing how far we can take it and how great we can make it.”