Baldwin football players trade playbooks for story books

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The nearly 20 kindergartners nestled together on the carpet at the entrance of Amy McDonough's classroom, laughing and giggling as a boy nearly five times their size read them a playful tale.

“I liked that story!” a boy shouted as 16-year-old Ean Eshelman, a junior offensive and defensive lineman for Baldwin High School's varsity football team, finished reading a book about doctors and dinosaurs.

“They get so excited when they get anyone to come in to read to them,” McDonough said. “They just love hearing stories and they just are in awe when the high school kids are here.”

Eleven members of Baldwin High School's varsity football team visited W.R. Paynter Elementary School last Friday to read to the school's nearly 750 students and share stories about the importance education has played in their lives, especially as student athletes.

“These young ones view them as super heroes,” first-year varsity football coach Pete Wagner said.

The idea of having varsity football players visit the elementary schools in Baldwin-Whitehall was introduced last spring, with the goal of providing the athletes with a leadership opportunity and giving the youngsters another role model to look up to, Wagner said.

The program started this year with visits by junior and senior football players to McAnnutly and Whitehall elementary schools.

“It's pretty cool. They look up to us,” said Baldwin High School senior and wide receiver Luke Smorey, 17. “Just to come in and read to them, I think it's a good thing.”

The youngsters tugged on the purple and white jerseys of the football players as they walked down the hall and asked them questions about what high school life is like.

“It's a great chance to be a role model for the younger kids and to make a difference in their lives,” said Baldwin senior Justin Zinsmeister, 17, a linebacker and tight end. “I gain a relationship with the kids from the community.”

Now, when the youngsters see the football players on the field they will have a closer bond with them, Zinsmeister said.

“They'll be like ‘Number 18, I know him,'” he said.

Fourth-grader John Thompson, 9, said he was excited to see players from his favorite sport visit his school.

Classmates Jonna Banko and Carly Kennard, both 9, said they were more curious to hear what high school life was like.

“Here, we're little and in high school, you get to be on your own,” Kennard said.

This is the second time in recent weeks that members of the Baldwin varsity football team have interacted with students at Paynter, Principal Tricia Fusco said.

The kickoff for the school's “Fuel Up to Play 60” program this year, founded by the National Dairy Council and NFL in collaboration with U.S. Department of Agriculture, included a flag football game where the Paynter staff faced off against the fifth-graders, Fusco said.

Members of the Baldwin High School varsity football team paired with the fifth-graders to take on the teachers on the field, while the band and cheerleaders pumped them up from the sidelines.

“It was the most amazing day,” Fusco said. “Our students were just absolutely awed and enthralled with the (high school) players. You would have thought Justin Bieber was on the field.”

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

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