Pirates' Care-A-Van program visits Laurel Highlands students

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 7:10 p.m.

A sports figure can be a big hero in a child's life, and when a professional athlete takes the time to speak to children on their own levels, it can be magical.

For many years, Pittsburgh Pirates Charities have been reaching out into the communities in the area, helping out with donations and interest as they strive to make a difference for children and families.

As part of the Pirates Charities Winter Care-A-Van program, several members of the organization visited with the students at the Hutchinson Elementary School in the Laurel Highlands School District.

Librarian Catherine Marmol applied for the visit when she heard of the program and was delighted to hear that the school had been selected as part of the weeklong schedule of visits that were part of the program.

“I was really excited when I heard that they were coming,” Marmol said. “The kids are really excited to have the opportunity to meet some of the sports figures that they look up to and watch.”

Hutchinson Principal Rick Hauger said he thinks the program is great for the students.

“I think that this is terrific,” Hauger said of the visit. “It's exciting, and the kids are all excited. I think this is just great how they take their time to go out into the community like this.”

Pirate players Justin Wilson, Gaby Sanchez and Jeff Locke visited the students, along with coach Euclides Rojas and broadcaster Tim Neverett.

The fifth-grade classes were taken to the school library where the players met with them and talked to them about the importance of reading.

“I read a lot,” Wilson said. “I have to keep up with all the facts about the other guys, and I like to read the newspaper when I can to keep up.”

“Reading is important,” Locke said. “It's important to stay in touch and to stay informed.”

The players, along with the Pirate Parrot mascot then walked through the library, meeting the children and asking them questions such as what they like to read and what they like to do.

The players and other Pirates visitors also took time to autograph items brought in by the children and to pose for photos.

“I really enjoy doing this,” Locke said. “I remember when I was their age how excited I would get when someone would come and visit with us at our school. It really made an impression on me, and it's something that I always remembered.”

Locke added that he enjoys having the opportunity to allow the kids to see the players in a different setting.

“It's nice that they have this opportunity that they can see us off the field,” Locke said. “I'm really happy to be a part of this and to have the chance to interact with these kids. They're awesome.”

As part of the program, the Pirates Care-A-Van donated 60 books to the library and 10 iPads that will be used in the library.

“Reading is so important in your lives,” broadcaster Tim Neverett said. “It's not just reading words; it's the comprehension. Read all you can. It's important and it's something that you should do as often as you can.”

The Pirates also then appeared in the school gymnasium for a short program for all of the students.

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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