Every Monday and Wednesday, members of Tuscarora High School’s varsity and junior varsity baseball teams set their alarms early in order to get to school more than an hour early.
But the players aren’t using the time to lift weights or get in some extra at bats. The 32 players, three managers and one scorekeeper are heading to Frances Hazel Reid Elementary.
Since March of this year, the Husky baseball program has been participating in Readers Are Leaders, a non-profit program based out of Herndon.
“Basically, we’re each paired up with a kid from kindergarten to second grade,” explained Tuscarora senior Hunter Oke. “We have 30 minutes every Monday and Wednesday. We read to them or they read to us, we help them memorize words and we play games with them to get their overall reading better.”
Readers Are Leaders began in 2003, when South Lakes basketball coach Wendell Byard paired his team with elementary students from Terraset.
Tuscarora baseball coach Mark Bauer was introduced to the program from Brad Bauder, baseball coach of Woodgrove. Bauder’s team participated in the program with a Purcellville elementary school last year and continues to participate now.
“As soon as he told me about it, I was like, ‘that’s absolutely something I want to do,’” Bauer said.
Bauer connected with both the Readers Are Leaders organization and the principal at Frances Hazel Reid. From there, reading specialists at the school helped develop plans so the pairs could make the most of their time together.
While the athletes have noticed a marked improvement in their buddies’ reading abilities, the results aren’t all mental.
“It’s heartwarming for me when I walk into the classroom and she gets a smile lit up on her face,” senior Tyler Dietrich said of his buddy. “She’s just as excited as can be to come out and read.”
Bauer feels the program has helped instill leadership and responsibility in his team.
His players agree.
“I never had that much responsibility,” said Jordan Fisher, a freshman on the JV squad. “But sometimes when you don’t want to get up on those Mondays and Wednesdays, you know there’s a kid waiting for you, so you want to get there and help him out.”
On May 1, the players and their buddies took the field at the start of Tuscarora’s home contest against Loudoun County.
Although the Huskies lost the game, 4-2, to Loudoun County, both the players and the kids enjoyed the moment.
“It was very cool,” senior Dalton Scanlon said. “I remember looking up to the big kids when I was younger. It’s a tight little bond.”
As the end of the school year approaches, the buddies’ time together is waning. But Bauer assured his players they will be continuing their partnership with the school, and he hopes to expand the program to a fall team.
The players hope to see the program spread, not just in their school, but among other schools in the county.
“I think every sports team should have to do something like this,” Oke said. “There’s three elementary schools within a 10-mile radius of here. There’s a lot of kids that could use help.”