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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA baseball team spends day inspiring local youth

    UA outfielder Jon Gaston reads along with Haley OConner, 11. OConner visited the university yesterday with her sixth grade class from Richard B. Wilson Junior High School in Oro Valley to tour the campus.
    UA outfielder Jon Gaston reads along with Haley O’Conner, 11. O’Conner visited the university yesterday with her sixth grade class from Richard B. Wilson Junior High School in Oro Valley to tour the campus.

    Already with a pair of No. 1 preseason poll rankings this winter, the Arizona baseball team gained a unique third top honor yesterday.

    Far beyond stats, wins and talent – this honor comes not from a computer generated list of numbers, but the hearts and passion of elementary school students.

    Niki Tilicki’s sixth-grade class from the Richard B. Wilson Junior High School in Oro Valley took a field trip to Sancet Stadium yesterday to watch the Wildcats read, not steal signals, but rather, pages from middle school books.

    “”Normally when you say we’re going to go out and visit the baseball program, you’d say they’re going to take you to the batting cage or the clubhouse … but here they’re going to read with you,”” said UA Head Coach Andy Lopez. “”I think it’s a very grateful model.””

    About 60 students were scattered into small groups around the infield, dugout and bleachers to hear some of their favorite books narrated – like “”Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark,”” “”Shilo”” and “”Sounder”” – by their favorite hometown athletes.

    The 12-and13-year-old students were engaged and mesmerized by readings while on the field, and gained a sense of academic motivation from their newfound role models.

    “”When we give them notes in class, now they understand why we’re teaching them that, “” Tilicki said, who began the annual field trip in 1992 after her time as a former UA batgirl. “”It gave their future a purpose. It was a big deal for (the team) to drop their bats today and pick up a book.””

    Reading time merely concluded a day full of experiencing the college atmosphere. Students not only toured the campus, but engaged in real-life college student situations, such as eating lunch at the Student Union Memorial Center and the Pi Beta Phi sorority house, touring the dorms on North Highland Avenue and visiting numerous classrooms. Although the engineering, Islamic history and math classes went far beyond the comprehension of most sixth-graders, the students did learn some valuable tips that most professors haven’t yet mastered.

    “”Of anything, the most interesting thing they’ve learned from the class was who’s studying, who’s playing solitaire and who’s looking at pictures on Facebook,”” Tilicki said.

    Teri Simmons sat in the sun-filled bleachers, watching her third child, Craig, experience the field trip. With nothing but praise and enjoyment from her first two kids, Simmons knew how much of an impact and motivation the trip brought.

    Her son Scott attended the trip last year, and left with a new strong consideration for Arizona.

    “”They’re not professionals, but when you’re a sixth grader, this is a big deal for them, and for us [parents] too really,”” Simmons said. “”They’re told by their parents, teachers and by the players what it takes to be in college and what that can give you in life later. They get to see, ‘Oh this person came to college and this is what I’ve got to do.'””

    Michael Lawson, 12, was described by his student teacher as the classroom’s Wildcats superfan. Frequently donning red and blue, Lawson aspires to become a professional baseball player with a journey through Lopez’s program.

    “”I’m a big U of A fan and I follow all their sports,”” Lawson said. “”A lot of my favorite players played here, (like) Shelly Duncan.””

    Lopez also stressed the importance of community service for his team.

    “”It’s also very good for our guys,”” Lopez said. “”Understand that there’s a lot of young people out there that are watching everything that you do, so make sure you do it right when you’re here.””

    Target donated $1,000 for transportation and the new books all students will receive signed by the baseball team. The students will e-mail their players back to let them know how the book ended.

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