Tuesday, June 28, 2011

HS baseball players read to elementary kids

Addison Trail provides well-read role models
Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: April 21, 1995
Page: 1
Section: Sports Extra (High School)

Kids are always asking questions - who, where, when, why, why, why?

The inquisitive instinct is alive and well in Jill Grauer's first-grade class at Wesley School in Addison, as most of her class wriggles on the Reading Carpet, gathered in front of Curt Studinski, a senior baseball player at Addison Trail High School.

Studinski holds a copy of today's reading, "Monster Momma," and after he reads each page, there are the inevitable questions. His.

"How did the three boys treat Patrick?" Studinski wants to know.

Bad, Mean, Not very polite, reply three of Studinski's first-grade buddies.

"How do you think Patrick felt about what the kid said about his mother?"

"What do you think Patrick will do?"

"What's happening to Patrick?"

"Who baked the cake?"

"How would you feel if you had a mom like that?"

A five-minute children's story turns into a 25-minute forum on the way Patrick handled having a monster for a mother. Sometimes half the kids raise their hands to answer Studinski. Occasionally they all laugh at what the other said. Especially Studinski.

"He's got a great smile," Grauer says. "He smiles a lot."

That's just part of Studinski's reward for the weekly volunteer work he and four of his teammates do at Wesley and nearby Stone schools. Their efforts are the continuation of a program football and baseball coach Paul Parpet began in 1988 with monthly football-player visits to Alden Valley Ridge nursing home in Bloomingdale.

The rest of Studinski's payoff is in a feeling 17- and 18-year old kids cannot easily explain, a sense that some good must come from children "tugging at their pants leg to read one more page," as District 4 superintendent Larry Weck puts it.

It is Parpet's hope to eventually include all of District 4's six elementary schools, its pre-school and its junior high in the exchange.

Weck is all for it; the only obstacle is whether more high school kids can properly juggle their schedules. Studinski and teammates Brian Wrzesinski, Tony Stromdhal, Dan Flemming, Scott Voelkner and football player John Kondracki are showing that it can be done, and it's well worth the effort.

"I wish people would've done that when I was younger," says Studinski, who also helps the kids with their computer work. "Number one, it gets you out of class. Number two, you get to talk more. I was kind of a shy kid."

"They get big smiles and say 'Hi' to me and all that," Stromdhal says of his weekly entrances. "It's really cool. It gets better every time you go because you get to know the kids more, you start talking to them a little more. I was a little nervous the first day because I haven't worked with kids before, really."

Parpet has worked with kids for half of his life, coached the Blazers varsity football teams for 11 years and took on the varsity baseball job in 1994. He knows athletes are stereotyped, and he knows some deserve to be - some.

"We hear so much about negativism, and that's not always the case," Parpet says. "We get so hung up on wins and losses. There's a heck of a lot more than just that."

Parpet was inspired to begin the nursing home visits after watching a Christmas commercial from the professional athlete-related United Way charity. The visits include bingo, wheelchair competitions and cookouts. Around Christmas, members of the school's other clubs and teams join the football players for a caroling session. Parpet's brother and assistant football coach John is Santa Claus.

The group has never been fewer than 25 kids, and not a month has been missed. Its early members include distinguished former Blazers and current Ivy Leaguers John Lykouretzos and the Kelly brothers, John and Pat; University of Illinois Rhodes Scholar candidate Steve Steinhaus and standout running back/defensive back James Dorsey.

Parpet got the elementary school inspiration from a speaker at a national high school baseball coaches convention in Dallas this past year. His conviction was sealed when he noticed that evryone who signed up for a guest-reader program at his daughter's first-grade open house was a woman.

And when Grauer is asked the secret to Studinski's success with her class, she simply replies, "I have 18 boys."

That is the most obvious benefit of the players' time well-spent. The term role-model has been used more as an example of who is not one.

Studinski began his visits in baseball's pre-season. On the day of the Blazers' first game, the class surprised him with drawings of Studinski in his baseball uniform, bound with a computer-drawn cover.

The class brings in newspaper pictures of Blazers games, including a shot taped to the rear blackboard of Studinski getting a faceful of cleats in a game against Driscoll.

"It makes us look better," says Studinski of the program. "It's not like we're self-centered or anything. We're trying to help the community."

"High school to (the first-graders) is a very foreign thing," Grauer says. "The only thing they know about Addison Trail is that it's Curt's school."

"There's always value in looking at high school kids coming to an elementary school and (the children) seeing what (the high school kids) can do," Weck says.

As much as the program benefits the community, it can also mean a lot to an individual.

When Wrzesinski offered his services at Wesley, a second-grade teacher introduced him to a boy who had been a handful. All his siblings are girls, attention at home is spread thin and the boy sometimes expends his energy at the wrong places and wrong times.

The first of their weekly two-hour meetings was in March, and it consisted of a little basketball and a lot of talk. It has since grown to a relationship which has improved the boy's behavior and made Wrzesinski count his blessings.

"I had all that stuff as a kid, and I didn't even realize it," Wrzesinski says. "It's opened my eyes a bit."

The two play catch and work on the boy's school projects and talk, mostly about considering the consequences of the boy's actions.

"I've been trying to get it through to him to go along with the program," Wrzesinski says. "It seems like it's worked. He's been staying out of trouble. I really look forward to going and hearing that he stayed out of trouble."

It didn't take long for Wrzesinski to realize his responsibility.

"I'll say some things to him and he'll bring them up weeks later," Wrzesinski says. "He really looks up to me."

Wrzesinski has offered his phone number to, and wants to meet, the parents. Maybe he can take the boy to Enchanted Castle, or out to play, or something. Wrzesinski is leaving for Northern Illinois University to study business next fall, and he knows someone has to pick up where he leaves off.

The boy asked him the other day, "When school's over with, are we still gonna be friends?"
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


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