QUICKSBURG – Books, baseball and breakfast drew close to 200 people to Ashby-Lee Elementary School on Saturday.
Stonewall Jackson High School graduate-turned professional baseball player Colton Harlow likely helped attract dozens of children and more than 60 families.
“It’s really cool,” Harlow said. “I think it’s a good thing trying to promote reading for the younger kids. Obviously connecting it with baseball is really cool for me.
“It’s been a cool experience getting to meet all the kids and sign some autographs for them and seeing smiles on their faces,” Harlow added. “It means a lot.”
Harlow, 23, played baseball, basketball and golf at Stonewall Jackson High School before going to James Madison University where he continued to play baseball. Harlow graduated from JMU last spring. Harlow recently signed with the Colorado Rockies. Over the summer Harlow played for the Grand Junction Rockies, a minor league baseball team in the Pioneer League and the rookie affiliate for the Colorado Rockies.
Harlow admitted he didn’t like to read, except for the occasional book he found interesting.
“But it’s hard to catch my interest most of the time when it comes to reading,” Harlow said. “Plus, I was always really busy ... I always wanted a ball in my hand, so I was always playing some type of sport. Never really wanted to relax and read a book. I just wanted to be go, go, go all the time.”
Susan Tusing, a Title I reading specialist at the school said she also thought holding Books, Baseball and Breakfast on a Saturday as suggested by the community, rather than on a weeknight, increased attendance.
“This is an excellent turnout for our event,” Tusing said.
About a dozen volunteers joined Tusing and fellow reading specialists B.J. Goodier and Pam Clem to stage the event. The school tries to hold family engagement activities each year, including two for pupils in the Title I program, who receive reading support, Tusing said.
Title I specialists put on family engagement activities throughout the year, two of which Tusing called whole-school events. This year Books, Baseball and Breakfast was one of the whole-school events. Parents of pupils in Title I indicated by way of an annual survey last year that they found it difficult to attend events scheduled on weeknights, Tusing said. Organizers responded by planning one weekend event this school year, she said. Planning for the event began in the fall and pupils wrote letters to Harlow in Colorado, Tusing.
“We really want to encourage literacy in the home and we want to get all the readers that we can and sometimes connecting that to sports (helps),” Tusing said.
Organizers received more than $800 in donations and help from about a dozen area businesses.
“The generosity and support that we’ve received from different community organizations is amazing,” Tusing said.
“So we’re really trying to bring in the community with this event and it’s all for the kids, just to inspire them,” Tusing said. “Follow your dreams is kind of our motto ’cause that’s something that Colton did.”
Pupils came into the cafeteria with their families and picked up a bookmark at the first table. Pupils could read books from the school library about baseball and other sports at the next table. This gave pupils an idea of what kinds of books they could check out at the library, Tusing said.
The third station run by the Mount Jackson-New Market Little League allowed children to test their ability to aim and throw a ball at a strike zone. From there, children could go to the next station run by the New Market Rebels and test their pitching speed, which participants could put down on their bookmark. Participants could compare their speeds with Harlow’s high of 93 mph, Tusing said. Stonewall Jackson High School baseball players also helped with the event.
Pupils then went to the fifth station where they could have Harlow sign the bookmark. Children could enter their names for door prizes, including a baseball and T-shirts autographed by Harlow, with names drawn Monday. Families then were invited to the other end of the cafeteria for breakfast.
Rosanna Winner brought her three children, Avarose, Wade and Kathleen to the event. She said her mother used to work with Harlow’s father, Bill Harlow, so she’s known Colton Harlow for years. Her children also enjoy going to school functions, she said.
“We love books,” Winner said. “They really haven’t gotten into baseball yet. I played softball when I was little.”
People continued to arrive for the event toward the end. B.J Goodier also said the event had a good turnout.
“I’ll tell you, one little girl that left said, ‘I got to see a real baseball player.’” Goodier said. “I thought that was so cute. Small town boy does good.”