By Jason Lockhart
There was no better way to follow-up Kids' Opening Night than with Islanders Literacy Day. Islanders players were scattered all across Long Island, visiting schools Tuesday morning to promote literacy, answer questions and sign autographs.
Rick DiPietro and Chris Simon visited Pasadena Elementary school in Plainview and had the chance to talk to fourth grade kids at a packed assembly. Even before the players arrived, the kids entering the school were murmuring, "Are the Islanders here yet?"
When Rick and Chris arrived, Principal Paulette Miller introduced herself and welcomed them to their school. After meeting with some of the faculty, it was time for the main event: the kids.
The players entered the auditorium to cheers and screams. Rick and Chris wasted no time introducing themselves and explaining how thrilled they were to be there. After a discussion on the importance of reading, they opened the floor up to questions. At first there was a slight hesitation by the fourth graders, but then the hands flew up.
"Why did you become a goalie?" asked one fourth grader.
"Because I thought the equipment was cool," replied Rick. "I liked putting on the mask."
"What baseball team do you like the best?" asked another child.
That response brought cheers throughout a majority of the kids, many sporting Islanders jerseys. Rick and Chris both laughed and continued fielding questions. Topics ranged from why Rick and Chris became hockey players to what they do in the off-season.
"Anytime these kids get a chance to see men or women who have done something really spectacular in their lives, it makes the kids excited and motivated," said assistant principal Greg Scesney. "You're always looking for ways to motivate kids. That's how you get them to learn. The kids are thrilled to be here. You can see they're jumping out of their skin. This is their team. The Islanders did a great job of motivating these kids."
Speaking to fourth and fifth graders at Barnum Woods Elementary, Trent Hunter was asked how hard it is to play hockey. "It's kind of like reading," said Trent. "First it's really difficult and a lot of work, but as you go along, it gets easier, and you learn to enjoy it."
At New Hyde Park Road Elementary School, Shawn Bates and Alexei Zhitnik read the "Three Little Pigs: the Untold Story" to a packed auditorium of more than 500 students.
Meanwhile, over in Easy Rockaway, judging by the unbelievable welcome Mike York and Brendan Witt received from both the faculty and students of Rhame Avenue School, there must have been bevy of activity going on in the days leading up to New York Islanders Literacy Day.
More than 350 students and faculty filed into the gymnasium, where they were treated to York and Witt reading of one of the Brady Brady series of books, as well as some words of advice on why reading is so important. "Events like this are important," said Witt. "The kids here are phenomenal. We love doing appearances like this, when you know you can have an impact."
Back at Pasadena, the hands continued to rise after the 30-minute Q & A session was complete. From there, it was time for autographs. For over 45 minutes Rick and Chris signed photos, jerseys, hats and shirts as well took pictures with the kids.
"It's really cool to have Rick DiPietro and Chris Simon here," said fourth grader Ryan Preston. "It was pretty exciting to be able to ask them questions. I have season tickets, so I'm going to go to a lot of games this year."
When it was time for the players to go to practice at Islanders Iceworks, a few more pictures were snapped and souvenirs signed before Rick and Chris departed for their afternoon skate.
"Literacy is the biggest thing we push for in America," said Scesney. "It's not just about reading and writing, it's also about verbal skills. Literacy is about the ability to communicate with one another. After this event, the children will go back to their classrooms, discuss it and write responses and reactions. This event is a launching pad for a million different things."
Said DiPietro: "It's a real honor to come to events like these. It's a treat to get a chance to talk to these kids. Chris and I both had a great time."
Below is the list of schools the Islanders attended:
Dickinson Avenue School: Miroslav Satan and Richard Park
Pasadena Elementary: Rick DiPietro and Chris Simon
Babylon Memorial School: Jason Blake and Radek Martinek
Summit Lane Elementary: Alexei Yashin and Andy Hilbert
Rhame Avenue Elem School: Mike York and Brendan Witt
Camp Avenue Elementary: Sean Hill and Joel Bouchard
Barnum Woods School: Trent Hunter and Viktor Kozlov
Northern Parkway Elementary: Mike Sillinger
McKenna Elementary: Arron Asham and Chris Campoli
E. Northport Middle School: Tom Poti and Mike Dunham
New Hyde Park Road School: Shawn Bates Alexei Zhitnik
Wilson Elementary School: Bruno Gervais