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Stempniak Makes Surprise Visit to Elementary School

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues
Eleven-year-old Nathan Smalling has never had this much fun reading.

Each night, he grabs one of his favorite books, crawls into bed and covers up with his Blues-themed bed sheets. He keeps track of how much time he spends reading and records it on a sheet of paper on his refrigerator, because he knows there is a big reward waiting for him when he reaches his goal of 1,000 minutes, and it’s courtesy of his favorite NHL team.

Lee Stempniak signs an autograph for a third grader at Estelle Kampmeyer Elementary School in O'Fallon, IL.

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Typically, he gets a good night’s sleep, but he had a little trouble with that on Wednesday night. He was still excited about the Blues’ 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks that he just watched on television, and he had a big day ahead on Thursday. Blues forward Lee Stempniak was coming to visit him at school.

“It was the coolest day of the year,” he said.

Stempniak visited Estelle Kampmeyer Elementary School in O’Fallon, Illinois on Thursday as part of the Blues Bookworms program designed to promote reading among young children. The program encourages students to read 1,000 minutes from October to January. If they can complete the program, the student will receive a free ticket to the Blues home game on March 4. The students will also be recognized on the Jumbotron at Scottrade Center for their accomplishments.

“It was something else,” Stempniak said. “It was quite an experience to walk in there and have all those kids wearing blue and gold, Blues jerseys, Blues T-shirts and screaming ‘Let’s Go Blues!’ I think it’s great in the sense that the Blues are getting out there.”

Stempniak led an assembly before the entire student body, talking to kids about the importance of an education and the value of reading. He also handed out a few Blues T-shirts that had tickets wrapped inside while the gymnasium of more than 400 children chanted “Let’s Go Blues.”

“It was awesome, I think all the kids were excited,” said Kim Hagelstein, Nathan’s mom. Hagelstein serves as a volunteer librarian at Estelle Kampmeyer and has been instrumental in promoting the Blues Bookworms program at the school.

 “It was such a great honor to meet (Lee) as a hockey player and to know he’s involved in something as great as the reading program. Books are a big thing in our family, so we take reading very seriously and read all the time,” she said.

The Blues Bookworms program has been underway for just over a week, but Smalling has already recorded 320 of the required 1,000 minutes.

Stempniak fielded questions from students after the assembly that ranged from why he chose to become a hockey player to which books are among his favorite. Smalling was one of the students that was chosen to ask him a question.

Afterwards, Stempniak made a surprise visit to Mrs. Judy Brooks’ third grade classroom, where he visited with students, signed autographs and took part in a class photo.

“Hopefully they had fun, because I had a lot of fun talking to the kids, especially for a good cause where it’s promoting reading and setting goals,” Stempniak said.

“They definitely put a smile on my face. Walking into a situation like that where they’re excited for you to be there and you feel like you’re giving back a bit, it was a lot of fun for me, too.”

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