NIU Athletes Spread Joy of Reading to Local Elementary School Children

GO HUSKIES Ben Thomas of the men's soccer team joined other NIU student-athletes as they spent time with children at Malta Elementary School
Ben Thomas of the men's soccer team joined other NIU student-athletes as they spent time with children at Malta Elementary School

Jan. 12, 2010

DEKALB, Ill. - NIU athletes mixed sports with story time last month at Malta Elementary School.

Representing men's and women's soccer, gymnastics, track and field and women's golf, a group of 15 Huskies read books to the children and answered their questions about sports, life and the importance of literacy and learning.

Their visit came under the auspices of CHAMPS/Life Skills, a program launched by the NCAA to help collegiate athletes commit to academic and athletic excellence, personal and career development and community service.

"It was pretty cool. Their eyes were wide and bright, and they were pretty interested in what we were saying about how we got to where we are and how reading helped us," said Ben Thomas, a member of the men's soccer team and an English major. "They look up to us as athletes, and we were able to share our experiences with reading growing up and how reading applies to their growing and academic achievements."

"It was a hit," added Kyra Lobbins, a graduate student at NIU and coordinator of CHAMPS/Life Skills, "and definitely something we will do again. Our athletes are very willing to go out and do things like this, and when I asked about it, hands went up immediately. There wasn't any hesitation at all."

Lyndsey Todd, the school's librarian, made the invitation.

"When I was in college, I was in sports, and we went to an elementary school to read to the kids. It was a good experience. I enjoyed it, and I knew those kids really enjoyed it, and I wanted to bring that to Malta," Todd said.

"Originally I was thinking about having DeKalb High School athletes," Todd added, "but then I thought it would more impressionable from college athletes: `It's important to read, and in order to get to college, you need to read all through school.' The kids loved it."

Each group of athletes visited two classrooms for 25-minute sessions, reading two or three books aloud and answering questions.

Children were curious about everything from how long the athletes had played their particular sports and how many years they had been in school to college life, Huskie Bucks and even whether the athletes had boyfriends and girlfriends.

Meanwhile, they learned that sports take a back seat to academics.

"You're a student before you're an athlete," Todd said. "The NIU students explained that, in college, the coaches make sure the student part comes first. If the kids aren't doing well in school, they'll be held off the team."

Division I schools are required to provide life skills programming for their student-athletes. CHAMPS, launched in 1994, stands for Challenging Athletes' Minds for Personal Success.

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