Basketball Players Score Big With ’Lopes for Literacy
Coaches and players from the GCU men’s basketball team kicked off the latest version of the ’Lopes for Literacy program on Tuesday, Sept. 28, with a visit to an enthusiastic classroom of third-graders at Washington Elementary School in northwest Phoenix.
Junior Nick Witherill and sophomore Steve Morin took turns reading “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss as assistant coaches Phil Cullen and Matt Brase looked on. The visitors handed out GCU pennants to the children afterward and posed for photos with “Flat Thunder,” a cardboard version of the Antelope mascot.
For the athletes, it was like playing in front of a fired-up home crowd. Teacher Matt Rojas, in his fifth year at the school, has been recognized by the Rodel Foundation for his ability, receiving a $10,000 award for his work in training student teachers.
Rojas said his class of two dozen has a two-hour reading block every day.
“We’re crazy about reading,” he said. “It’s a big focus of ours. Each one of them gets individual attention to make sure they’re reading at grade level.
“They’re excited and eager, and that makes it a lot easier.”
Their favorite authors include Robert Munsch, Mark Brown and Peggy Rathman, he said.
Washington’s sixth-year principal, Dave McNeil, said Rojas has the magic touch.
“This guy is one of the best teachers in the state,” McNeil said. “We serve an at-risk area with a lot of mobility and poverty. We’re a Title I school, with 100 percent of our students on free or reduced lunch. But this is a good school.”
Witherill and Morin said the visit brought back fond memories of third grade. Both can still recall the names of their third-grade teachers (Mrs. Mann, Miss Rakers) and their favorite childhood books (“Where the Wild Things Are,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends”).
The reception the athletes received made an impression on them.
“All they knew was that we were basketball players,” Morin said, “but as soon as we walked in, they were attentive.”
Rojas joked with the players and coaches, saying, “If you guys need a point guard, my eligibility isn’t up.”
The basketball team’s visits continue this week at Happy Valley School (Wednesday) and Bicentennial South School and Brunson Lee Elementary (both Friday). Joy Christian School is on the reading tour next week. The program is sponsored by GCU’s College of Education.