Words matter, and young students across Chicagoland continue to appreciate that lesson through the Blackhawks Reading Program that rewards youngsters for such a noble pursuit.
The program is dedicated to encouraging students in grades 2-6 to read both in and out of the classroom. The contest runs from September through February and features special prizes for the students who read the most pages.
Video: John Hayden reads to students
"Days like this demonstrate the Blackhawks role in the community," said Blackhawks right wing John Hayden, who paid a special visit to the winning sixth-grade class at Eli Whitney Elementary School. "A lot of things the Blackhawks value, including education...that's what makes today special. It is something all of the players value. And you want to sort of relay that message that we have confidence in these kids."
Wearing his No. 40 Blackhawks sweater, Hayden read parts of a book to the class before answering questions from the eager sixth-graders.
"The kids won an award for reading over 430,000 pages. So today is an opportunity to recognize and commend that accomplishment," Hayden said after he spoke to the class. "And all of us Blackhawks value and have valued education now and growing up. We wanted to commend the kids on their achievement."
Hayden, who attended Yale University and served as captain of the Bulldogs before joining the Blackhawks as a third-round selection in 2013, knows firsthand how valuable reading is for future generations.
"A lot of the people that I look up to- both athletes and non-athletes- are very well read," Hayden said. "That is something I want to value. It started with my older brother, who is extremely well read. He might be the brightest guy I know. I think that is a quality that is very noble and something I try to work on every day."
Maria Guzman, the homeroom teacher for the winning students at Eli Whitney, was especially grateful for the Blackhawks' special recognition.
"They were very excited. They were surprised because I did not tell them anything (about winning the contest)," she said. "I just told them that we will see if they win. And someone will come and give them a goody bag and stuff like that. So they kept asking me every day: 'Oh, did we win? Did we win?' I said: 'We are going to find out on Tuesday.'
"So, when they saw (Hayden) come in...they were really excited."
The youngsters asked the 24-year-old Hayden everything from how old he was when he first started playing hockey to how much money he makes now, the latter of which he respectfully declined to answer.
"I have done this before and the questions are always entertaining," Hayden later said. "They have bright futures ahead of themselves and it is nice to recognize them for their reading accomplishments."
The top monthly readers were featured on the Blackhawks website and became eligible to win prizes provided by Dover Corporation.