In addition to broadcasting hockey, one of the things I love to do is read. On the Lightning team plane, you’ll usually find me with my nose in a book, newspaper or magazine. I also am passionate about reading to kids, sharing with them my love of books and getting them excited about reading. That’s why I’m thrilled that the Lightning are launching a new reading initiative program for children this year, an extension of the one I’ve been doing since 2004.
Eight years ago, the Lightning and Hillsborough County School Board assisted me in starting Score With Reading, a literacy program for elementary school children. In the presentation I begin by inquiring how many of those in my young audience like watching movies (invariably every hand goes up). I agree that I like movies too, but that I actually enjoy books more. I ask how many of these kids have seen one, if not all, of the Harry Potter movies. Most have. Many also have read – or have had read to them – the Harry Potter books. When asked to contrast the movies and books, they all agree that the books tell a more complete story. I point out that, unlike for movie producers who need to keep their films to about two hours, there are no time considerations for J.K. Rowling – or for any author. That’s why, in my opinion, you usually get a better story from a book than a movie – and it’s the main reason for my preference.
Next, I read The Magic Hockey Stick, a short, fictional story in which a young hockey-playing girl helps out Wayne Gretzky. The girl’s parents are invited to a charity auction and accidently bid on and win a Gretzky autographed stick. The father, in particular, is pained by this unexpected and costly development. He tells his daughter not to play with the stick because “he’d go through the roof if someone should break it!” The girl, however, can’t resist using the stick in her team’s next game. She is the star, netting a hat trick. Her scoring spree continues every time she uses the special stick. Then, she reads in the newspaper how Gretzky (who is still playing, by the way) is in a scoring slump. Despite the warning from her father and the lure of her newfound scoring prowess, she returns the stick to Gretzky. Gretzky, impressed with her generosity, asks for her autograph on the stick. He then uses the stick to score a historic goal and it ends up in the Hall of Fame – with both signatures on it.
At the end of the story, the children and I discuss why she returned the stick. The book gives three specific reasons. I am invariably impressed with their ability to provide the correct answers. And finally – a surprise. I pull out from behind a curtain or door an actual Wayne Gretzky autographed stick! I’ve been able to use two of them for the program: the first belonged to former Lightning PR Director Jay Preble, who got it from Gretzky during the 1999 NHL All-Star Game, which was played here in Tampa. Eventually, Jay needed the stick back. The second – and current stick – came from Gretzky himself, when he was coaching Phoenix and the Coyotes visited Tampa Bay. All the kids touch the stick and get some “magic” before I go.
The program can work for large assemblies, so I’m often presenting to groups of 100 or more kids. If the school schedules two sessions, I’m likely seeing the entire first, second and third grades. To date, I’ve read The Magic Hockey Stick to more than 22,000 area children.
Dave Mishkin in action, reading to first graders at Brandon Academy.
It wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Lightning and the Lightning Foundation, the Hillsborough County School Board and especially, the non-profit organization SERVE. SERVE not only markets and promotes the program to local schools, it also coordinates the schedule of dates and times for my visits, juggling those dates within the busy hockey season. My contact, Crystal Russell, finds the interested schools, then she tells me where and when to go. All I have to do is show up.
I can tell you that when I leave each school, those kids are definitely excited about reading (and hockey). Now, thanks to the Lightning’s new initiative, there’s a definitive follow-up. This year, the Lightning will be working with first grade teachers in the Tampa Bay area to expand the Score With Reading Program. The program encourages first graders to read with a parent/grown-up for 20 minutes a night. If the child can accumulate 400 total minutes (20 nights) over a two-month span, that child will earn a free ThunderBug’s Kids Club Membership and a ThunderBug sticker. If the child reaches 800 total minutes (40 nights), the student will also earn a free ticket voucher to a Lightning game. Furthermore, entire classrooms that reach the 800 minute goal will be entered to win a special visit by a Lightning celebrity.
A lot of people within the Lightning organization have been working hard to get this program up and running, including Elizabeth Frazier, VP of Philanthropy and Community Initiatives. Special thanks also go out to Transitions Adaptive Lenses and Bright House Networks, sponsors of Score With Reading. Not only is this initiative program a wonderful way to draw kids to books, it’s just another example of how the Lightning, under Mr. Vinik’s direction and leadership, are making a difference in our community.