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by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning
tbl.commentator Melanie Formentin

While Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach John Tortorella is busy guiding his team on a day-to-day basis, his wife, Christine, does her own type of coaching behind the scenes.

Through the years, Christine Tortorella has taken her love of children and creativity and developed it into her own way of giving back to the community. As someone who likes to visit schools and work with children, one way she has reached out is through the writing and publication of a new children's book, Hey, Coach!

The idea for the book came from the notion that many of the principles John Tortorella teaches in the locker room can be applied to the everyday lives of children. The concepts of teamwork, respect for family and community, and the ability to achieve goals were ones that Christine Tortorella felt could be used to help children build confidence and self esteem in their own abilities.

Known for having an easy time breaking big ideas down so that children can understand them, Christine Tortorella also loved the thought of the Lightning's team mascot, ThunderBug, and a new bug pal, Little Bolt, "bugging" her husband for ideas. It was upon that foundation that the book was written.

The story is a simple one with a big message and recognizable characters. A Lightning bug, Little Bolt, is introduced as a friend of ThunderBug's. Little Bolt, whose "light" is actually a light bulb, is a curious bug constantly searching for "enlightening" ideas.

The two characters learn lessons such as effort, respect and discipline by going into Coach John Tortorella's office and asking him questions related to the game and his team. By the end of the story, the two bugs have learned that family and community are the most important things, and sometimes winning isn't everything -as long as you put out your best effort, you can be proud of what you've tried to accomplish.

"I've written a lot of things for children and it seemed like a complement to try and apply some of the principles to the older kids, of teamwork and those things," Christine Tortorella said. "I thought about writing a book about John for a long time, and since I'm better at children's books, that's what I thought I'd try. Nancy [Crane, Executive Director of the Lightning Foundation] said they were looking for a character education book with regards to the Lightning for younger kids. We kind of put our heads together and she like the idea of Hey, Coach! using the premises for younger kids with the bug."

To create and publish the book, Christine Tortorella partnered with the Lightning Foundation and University Community Hospital (UCH). In addition to 2,000 books being donated to school children throughout Hillsborough County, copies of the book will be available for $12 during Lightning home games. Proceeds from the book will go to the Lightning Foundation's literacy and education initiatives, something Christine Tortorella feels strongly about.

Christine Tortorella regularly goes to local schools to read and sing to young children. As someone who cares strongly about how kids think and feel as they grow up, she often falls back on books and music to reach out to children, including her own.

Even so, her main goal in writing the book was not just to teach kids life lessons but to talk to them about their talents and abilities and how to use and develop them.

"My main purpose for being here is not [based on] if the story line has something relevant for that age, but to talk to kids about their own talents and writing and to give them ideas and show them some of the things I've learned," Christine Tortorella said. "I love to work with poetry with them and then show them how that transposes into music. My biggest goal probably is self esteem and having kids find who they are in writing, art, music, computers and, of course, sports is the obvious one.

"There are also many other things kids can do and they may not even know it yet," she continued. "When I go in [to schools], I go in and try to reach kids and tell them to stick with their ideas and work on them and believe in themselves as people with great futures."

In donating her time and creative efforts, it can be said that Christine Tortorella is certainly doing her part to help mold those futures. By using her husband's work environment as an example, she also uses a successful atmosphere that she's familiar with to get her message across.

One of the aspects of the book that makes it special is the way it utilizes the different areas of the Lightning locker room to explain concepts. From the main locker room to the weight room to John Tortorella's office and the ice, Christine Tortorella incorporates various items found in the player areas to explain her husband's teachings. Motivational stories and phrases found on the walls in the hallways become the central theme carried throughout the book.

"I think the book is great because it's taken some of our thoughts down in the locker room and put them into a form where kids can understand what we talk about down there," John Tortorella said. "As an athlete and as a coach, I think some of the greatest education you can get is in the locker room. That's what I think is so neat about [the book] is that it explains - kids at this age don't understand some of the principles that go through there and that's what's exciting."

In publishing the book, the enthusiasm of the Tortorellas goes beyond bringing written messages from the locker room to children. Throughout the year, both John and Christine Tortorella donate their time to a variety of charitable causes.

John Tortorella's annual fishing tournament kicks off the Lightning Foundation's events each season, and the Foundation works closely with the Tortorella family during the summers as they continue giving back to their community whenever they can.

"I can't begin to tell you what leaders they are to our entire organization," Crane said of the Tortorellas. "They guide us every day in what's really important, and if you read this book the last pages really tell us all how we should be, and that's with love of our family and love of our community."

In working to reach out to her community, Christine Tortorella has taken small steps to pass on some bigger messages. By using her creative talents, she has taken two bugs into her husband's office to teach children that hard work, determination, respect and a handful of other concepts are important ideas to remember when reaching for dreams. That seems to be something worth "bugging" the coach about.
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