New Grizzlies players Xavier Henry and Tony Allen fired up an already excited assembly of young students at Robert R. Church elementary school yesterday as the Grizzlies started this year’s Read to Achieve program.
The event is part of the team’s 10 days to the 10th season buildup to the Oct. 27 home opener against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Read to Achieve program, now in its tenth year, encourages elementary level students in the Memphis area to read at least one book per week during the six-week contest. The school with the most participating students wins a trip to FedExForum and is the site for the following year’s kick-off rally.
“We hardly had any absentees today,” said Patricia Stone, the school’s program coordinator and librarian. “The kids are so fired up to see the players. When they think about the potential reward, they really stay committed to the program.”
Stone monitored the school’s students during last year’s program, and said that Robert R. Church students not only fulfilled their pledge to read one book a week, but several students doubled their work, reading two books a week during the program.
Teresa Dickerson, the Grizzlies director of community investment, has been running the program since the team moved to Memphis in 2001. Dickerson said the effects of the program are obvious, from the thank you letters the team receives from students to the high participation rate.
“A program like this can take a child who might not be the best reader and make them think, ‘if [the players] can do it, I can do it too,’” Dickerson said, “And then they’ll just put a little more effort into trying to learn how to read.”
Allen and Henry were impressed with the tenacity and enthusiasm of the children.
“All y’all are winners to me,” Allen said during a school-wide rally, “Y’all can be whatever you want to be.”
The event featured a brief reading session with the players and a school-wide assembly in which the players fielded questions from students, handed out t-shirts and judged a costume contest.
As part of the event’s theme, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” students had worn costumes representing their dream careers.
Nurses, doctors, lawyers and athletes were popular choices, but Allen and Henry selected a first-grader dressed as a mustachioed reading teacher as the winner.
“We had to give it to the mustache,” Allen said.
During the question and answer section, Allen, who was an education major at Oklahoma State, revealed a more unique personal reason for his involvement when asked what his career would have been if not for the NBA.
“If I wasn’t playing ball I’d probably be teaching in a school a lot like this somewhere,” Allen said.
Standing next to Allen, his teammate Henry just kept doing what he did the entire morning, smiling wide, taking in the reactions of an excited, miniature audience.
“If NBA players had come to my school my eyes would have been wide open,” Henry said. “I would have just been staring at them the whole time, not able to ask questions, I would have been too nervous. But these kids had fun with us and we had fun with them.”
On a day when Henry fumbled with a question about what he’ll do after basketball, (“I really have no idea,” he said.) maybe it was him who was in awe of the children.
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