READING IS THE GOOOAAALLL!: Las Vegas Lights FC program makes reading a kick for local students

What did you learn in school today, kids?

What’s 100 divided by four? Which American president crossed the Delaware? What Southern state is spelled by using the letters “s” and “i” and “p” a whole bunch of times?   

Or …

“Does anyone know what a tailgate is?” asks the spokeswoman for our local soccer team, the Las Vegas Lights FC, addressing about 250 potential tailgaters of tomorrow. “That’s what you call a party before a sports game!”

That slapping sound you hear is just Assistant Principal Rob Rosenblatt’s palms connecting with his forehead as a giddy mass of third-to-fifth-graders in the Ernest J. May Elementary School lunchroom gets a lesson in the A-B-C’s of partaaay-heartiness.

So, Sports Tailgating 101 isn’t normally an element of grade-school curriculums? Fear not, parents: Rosenblatt’s playful grin gives away his good humor because this is all for a good — correction, vital — cause:

“We want to encourage you to keep pushing yourself, do even more — read even more,” Las Vegas Lights Community Relations Manager Tia Coward tells the kids at this traveling “Reading Goals” assembly, one of many the professional team stages at elementary and middle schools valley-wide, to encourage literacy among schoolkids.  

“Set even higher reading goals and read at an even higher level. Challenge yourself to do even better.”

Yes — that’s why Rosenblatt is smiling. “We already have any accelerated reader program and we are looking for any way to motivate our kids to read so this was a great opportunity,” he says about the partnership with the Lights, which includes the kids reaching reading goals and earning tickets to Lights game and face time with the players. “And we just started a soccer team here as well, so this is another way for them to experience soccer. The kids love to see the athletes.”

They got one here — today’s guest was 32-year-old forward Sammy Ochoa, who gave a brief soccer-kick clinic, keeping a ball airborne as the kids enthusiastically counted off every one of his 35 straight kicks.

“The kids don’t know who I am but when they find out I play for the Lights, they get excited, they want to see us and give us a high five,” Ochoa says. “Soccer is growing in the U.S. so we want to involve the kids a little bit more. We got involved with the schools more this year and we are reading to them. I feel like I’m getting closer to the kids and they come out to the games and it adds a little bit more of a fan base to our team also.”

Though the “Reading Goals” assemblies only kicked off in January, Lights players have already dropped in at more than 60 schools, often visiting several in one day.

 “The kids love it, especially the elementary school kids. When the mascot comes out they go insane,” Coward says about that Elvis-y costumed dude the Lights have dubbed “Cash the Soccer Rocker,” who puts in a hip-wriggling, finger-snappy appearance to the kids’ collective squeal of fandom.

“Our mission has been to be a team that’s really involved in the community and this was an easy program to initiate with the kids’ schoolwork,” Coward adds. “We work with the librarians so it makes the program pretty seamless to roll out.”

What was easy to read at this assembly was the enthusiasm of the kids. Responding eagerly to Coward’s invitation to sprint up on stage, they demonstrated their dance moves (crucial to their tailgating education) and their distinctive body gyrations to celebrate whenever the Lights score a goal — arms and legs akimbo, faces contorted in goofy masks of joy.

Bigger joy, though, comes via the academic goal — a child grasping the basics of reading. “This is an amazing incentive and the kids are just on fire trying to make their reading goal,” says learning strategist Kathy Nacinovich, who works with the most at-risk students.

“The students can select books at our library, the public library or at home — fiction, nonfiction, anything they want to read. The students read the books and can go on the computer and take a quiz. Depending on how many questions they get correct, that determines how many points they earn.”

Those points can translate into a night with the Lights. What more incentive do they need to read? Ochoa can name one.

“Reading is important,” he says. “Even with athletes — hey, we have to read our contracts!”

Real-world motivation doesn’t get much more real than that.

To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.

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by Steve Bornfeld/Las Vegas Newswire

by Steve Bornfeld/Las Vegas Newswire