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Breakfast with Spartans more than story time to students

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:03 p.m.

He gripped the book in his hands, slowly and carefully reading each word aloud.

Brentwood High School senior John “Ralphie” Schmitt, 18, admitted he was “a little nervous” as he read a spooky tale to a room full of sixth-graders. After all, the standout football player said he didn't want to mess up in front of the youngsters, who admire him.

“Most of these kids look up to older kids,” said Schmitt, an offensive/defensive lineman on the Spartan varsity football team.

Schmitt and junior running back/safety Justin Vickless, 16, donning their varsity football jerseys, spent last Friday morning reading ghost stories to many of Brentwood's 86 sixth-graders in a new program, “Breakfast with the Spartans,” which was started by middle school reading and social studies teacher and varsity quarterback coach Casey Phillips.

Once a month, various high school athletes and cheerleaders visit the sixth-grade reading classes at Brentwood Middle School, where they interact with the younger students and serve as role models, Phillips said.

And as they munch on their mini-doughnuts the younger student have the chance to ask questions of their older peers. Many want to know about plays and tricks from the field, but there also are questions about life and learning.

With the middle and high schools operating from one building, Phillips said, he always is looking for ways to have both age groups interact in an effort to “build positive relationships” between the students.

“Middle school is a tough age for some kids,” Phillips said. “A lot of these kids aspire to be like a Justin Vickless.”

The program also shows the younger students the importance of education, as portrayed through the high school athletes.

“Not only are they very accomplished athletes, but they're also very good students,” Phillips said. “We try to have well-rounded people on our football field.”

And if that's the message the high school athletes want to share with their younger counterparts:

“Do your homework,” Vickless said.

“School before anything else,” Schmitt added.

Having role models in their school building is important for the sixth-graders, they said.

“They're amazing,” said Brandon Griener, 11, of the older athletes, as he sported his blue-and-gold 11-year-old Brentwood Dukes uniform. “We need to learn off of these guys.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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