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Pro Teams Hit a Homer With Student Reading Programs

Potomac Nationals spread the love of reading through school year, summertime.

Reading year round, including during the summer months when school is out, is an important practice students can form during elementary school years. It is a bridge that can help keep youngsters’ minds sharp as they prepare to make the transition to the next grade level.

The metropolitan area’s three minor league professional baseball teams, for many years, have been starch supporters of the values and benefits of reading for young students and have implemented community programs to help motivate that pursuit.

Last year, the Potomac Nationals of Woodbridge, a member of the Carolina League and a high single-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, awarded baseball game tickets to 30,000 elementary students, many from Fairfax County, who achieved book reading standards throughput the school year or summer.

This season, the `P-Nats,’ as they are known, have held four special `Summer Reading Nights’ at their home ball park - Pfitzner Stadium - in which achieving youngsters were honored during that evening’s ball game.

The `Summer Reading Night’ program is part of the P-Nats’ `Uncle Slam Reading Program.’ (Uncle Slam, for the uninitiated, is the P-Nats’ furry blue team mascot dressed in patriotic colors).

In the `Uncle Slam Reading Program,’ Nats front office representatives visit local schools where, during a special assembly time, they read a version of `Casey at the Bat’ to students. The team reps also encourage students to successfully read four books over a six-week period. Students who fulfill the reading assignment earn free tickets to four P-Nat ball games early in the baseball season.

Paul Barrett, Marketing and Community Relations Manager for the P-Nats, oversees the team’s `Uncle Slam Reading Program.’ An off branch component is the team’s Summer Reading Program, in which the P-Nats work with area libraries to develop summertime reading schedules designed to help youngsters keep their minds sharp while also whetting their appetites to a lifetime love affair with reading.

“It’s a great way to keep them in a school state of mind during the summer,” said Barrett, who recalled participating in the baseball organization’s reading program when he was a young boy growing up in the Woodbridge area. “[Our summer program] gives them an incentive to read and they have fun too. They can read books like Harry Potter and `Twilight.’ Reading is vastly important. Anything to keep them involved with school and scholastics and sports is good.”

For more information on the Potomac Nationals’ `Uncle Slam Reading program,’ call Mr. Barrett at 703-590-2311, ext. 224.

<b>THE FREDERICK KEYS</b> and Bowie Baysox, both minor league affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles, oversee similar reading programs which also include schools in Northern Virginia. Wakefield High (Arlington) graduate Adam Pohl, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the Keys, said the team’s `Keys for Reading’ year-round program includes summertime reading through the local libraries, much in the same way as the P-Nats’ program.

“Our reading program is geared towards the elementary school level,” said Pohl. “We partner with the school systems. It’s an easy way for us to encourage something positive outside of the classroom. We put a lot of effort into it and are encouraging children to read.”

`Keys for Reading’ is currently in its 15th year of existence. The Frederick Keys, members of the Carolina League, schedule eight `Reading Night’ games throughout the season in which students are honored for their reading accomplishments. The highlight of the `Reading Nights’ are the pre-game student parades down on the ball field.

For more information on the Keys’ summer reading program, contact Mr. Pohl at APohl@FrederickKeys.com.

Dana DeFilippo, who runs the Bowie Baysox `Read and Hit a Home Run’ program, said the Bowie ball club has given away 74,000 tickets this season to students who have successfully read four books during specific time frames throughout the school year as well as in the summer. A special Summer Reading Night took place at the Prince George’s Stadium ball park on July 24 when the Baysox hosted the Trenton Thunder in a double-A Eastern League game.

“We’ve given out a lot of free tickets,” said DeFilippo. “The best way to get involved in our communities is through the school systems. Reading is such a big part of school. Our program is a way to give back to the community.”

For more information on the Baysox summer reading program, call Ms. DeFilippo at 301-464-4871.