by: Jake Kring-Schreifels
To honor their participation and success in the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation’s “Redskins Read Program,” defensive lineman Chris Baker stopped by Creighton’s Corner Elementary in Ashburn, Va., to read and greet several winning students.
“What else do you care about besides football?” a fifth grader from Creighton’s Corner Elementary asked Redskins defensive linemen Chris Baker in front of his peers.
“I care about you guys,” he responded, which elicited a gigantic, and somewhat sophisticatedly sarcastic, “Aww.”
This was, of course, not just talk. Baker, whose own foundation supports literacy programs in the Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn., school systems, was happy to visit more than 400 fourth and fifth graders to celebrate their year of participation in the Redskins Read Program, put on by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation.
Surprising the kids on a Wednesday morning, specifically “Read Across America Day,” which celebrates the Dr. Seuss’ birthday, Baker entered the school’s gymnasium to screams and applause before he took a seat and began reading “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.” The book was projected on a screen for the kids to follow along and keep up with all the rhyming and Seussian vocabulary.
Baker, wearing his “Cat In The Hat” head accessory, congratulated the school for having the highest overall participation in the program, which gave out “playbooks” at the start of the year that students used to journal and document the amount of books they read each month.
He then answered some questions from students, who asked him about practicing, having a mentor in his life and being motivated each day.
“I understand how important reading is for our youth,” Baker said. “Reading is fundamental. It’s going to help them in every area of their life, whether it’s school or whether it’s sports. We have to be able to read, so I push them to read as much as possible, especially when you’re a youngster. When you get to high school, it’s second nature, it’s easy. The transition from high school to college is easier if you’re able to read and do math and do everything efficiently.”
Select individual winners were eventually called up and took a group photo before getting a private meeting with Baker in the principal’s office. This time, kids wanted to head there.
They nibbled on some Dr. Seuss character cookies and, once they got over their nerves, told Baker about what they were currently reading.
Baker finished his visit with a trip to the winning classroom from the school, which halted their work for some more questions and time to read from their Redskins Read Playbooks about a story they had recently finished.
“I think it means everything to have these players be a part of the community that they live in, to have our kids get to see someone in person that they watch on TV all the time and they wear this guy’s jersey and all of a sudden now he’s in our school and he’s real just like we are,” Creighton’s Corner principal Chris Knott said. “I think it’s a great opportunity. And I think even more important is the fact that not only is he engaging and funny and just very animated with the kids, his message that he brings is just really important and how I thought it was really neat to hear him talk about how reading applied to his life and not only what he had to do to get here but then in also how he has to read every day to help the team win and to better his family and his career.”
It’s safe to say the message got through to everyone in the assembly.
“I was probably more nervous than they [were] just coming in here,” Baker said. “As soon as I walked in here it was so loud, I thought I was coming into FedExField. But they were really excited. I’m happy that a school won that was right down the street from my house. They did a great job this year at reading and being efficient at reading and writing.”
The day also launched the Charitable Foundation’s Redskins Read Book Fair, scheduled for Saturday, May 14, at all participating Barnes & Noble book stores in the DMV, in which 20 percent of in-store purchases with Book Fair vouchers that day will support the Redskins Read program.
Celebrity Redskins guests will visit three of the participating stores so stay tuned to http://www.redskins.com/community/education/redskins-read.html for more information as it becomes available.
[Cassie Pacanovsky contributed to this article]