Each Thursday this fall, members of the Woodstock High School football team would arrive at Woodstock Elementary School just before 7 a.m. The players would sit in the hallway outside of the classrooms to greet younger students when they arrived, and they would then sit and read to the children.
On Wednesday, the elementary school invited a group of players and cheerleaders to return for one last visit. This time, the athletes were treated to breakfast and presented with a host of hand-drawn thank-you cards.
Defensive lineman Daniel Benetez attended Woodstock Elementary when he was younger. Now a high school junior with younger siblings at the school, he enjoys giving back.
“I like it because, basically, this is the future generation,” Benetez said. “I like to spend time with them and teach them what to do. Every single time I come, the kids react with a happy, cheerful face, and that is what keeps me coming back.”
Benetez hopes to participate in the program again next year.
Senior linebacker Ethan Wheeler is another former student at the elementary school.
He said that not much in his old school has changed. Often, he finds himself looking at picture books with the kids
“It’s not just the reading that I like,” he said. “They ask questions. They want to know how life is in high school. They look at us like rock stars almost. I like that.”
Wheeler, who had a breakout season this year, said the younger kids will sometimes come up to him after a football game.
“They will point and say ‘That kid reads to me.’ It’s awesome,” Wheeler said. “That’s the best way I can say it.”
Senior offensive lineman Blake Jacobs said he was on his second year being a part of the reading program.
“I just like seeing the kids’ faces when we sit and read to them,” he said. “It brightens my heart to see what.”
Jacobs attended elementary school in Florida, where he was a part of a similar program in which members of his local high school football team came to read to him. Jacobs said it’s something he never forgot, and he wanted to pass it along.
“I see some of the same traits that I have in some of these kids,” Jacobs said.
The football players weren’t alone in their work. Members of the cheerleading squad visited the elementary school on Fridays. Efforts are under way to get other teams from the high school — such as the lacrosse and softball teams — to take up the effort now that football season has wrapped up.
Woodstock Elementary principal Kim Montalbano said the program, which has been going on for four or five years, has been a real gift to the school. She has often seen younger children clamoring to get autographs from the football players.
“They are like celebrities here in our building,” Montalbano said. “The boys and girls really aspire to be an athlete at the high school, and this just really helps tie the zones together. It’s amazing because all the (high school) kids on their own will drive over here or get rides. It’s a huge commitment, and they are here every week.”