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Ott, Stars kick off Stick With Reading Program

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

In what might be the most important, far-reaching initiative undertaken by the Dallas Stars in the community, the club kicked off the 2011 version of the JCPenney Stick With Reading Program at Taylor Elementary in Plano on Tuesday.

Stick With Reading Rally Photos
Other key sponsors for the program include Half Price Books and A # 1 Air.

With three Stars players in attendance, led by program spokesman Steve Ott, who read to an auditorium full of about 300 children, the rally promoting the program was a huge success.

“Every year, the Stick With Reading rally kind of kicks off the program, which starts next week,” said Lora Farris, Executive Director of the Dallas Stars Foundation. “It’s a good way to get new schools involved and get kids excited about reading. And since Steve Ott is the spokesman, he and a couple of his teammates like to come out and promote the Stars and reading at the same time.”

The raucous cheering that Ott, forward Toby Petersen and defenseman Adam Pardy received throughout the assembly was uplifting, with many children holding up signs with Stars slogans and enthusiastically participating in the proceedings.

Ott has been the program spokesman for several years now, but this time was accompanied by his four-year-old daughter Layna, who is one of his inspirations for wanting to be involved with helping another group of children get excited about reading.

“From my standpoint, I have a little daughter and to see her get the education that she needs, the support of reading and the chance to make every kid a little bit smarter, it definitely helps out,” said Ott. “And this program touches thousands of kids throughout the Metroplex and having the opportunity to touch thousands of kids in the essence of promoting reading, the importance of reading and to help further the kids’ education and to help the Texas School Board out as well, it’s a great opportunity for us to set up this program, continue to monitor the program throughout the season and then give the kids the opportunity at the end.”

Based on the kids’ reaction to the Stars players, their presence definitely helped get the message across. They even remained quiet and attentive as Ott read from the book ‘Utterly Otterly Day,’ a story about an otter family that was chosen by his daughter.

Ott also recounted his childhood memories of his mother reading to him a somewhat odd choice of book, but a fitting one nonetheless.

“One of my favorite books growing up was Wayne Gretzky’s autobiography,” Ott revealed. “Even though I couldn’t read it at the time, I used sit in bed and make my mom read that book over and over and over again, and just hear about Wayne Gretzky and his autobiography. I’ll never forget that, that was one of my best memories as a kid, the book I loved the most, obviously it had to do with hockey.”

Petersen, who has sons who are 5 and 2, told the crowd that he liked to read books to his kids by Shel Silverstein such as ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends,’ while Pardy, who doesn’t have any children, admitted that he used to enjoy reading the Berenstain Bears books as a child.

The proceedings were skillfully emceed by Stars national anthem singer Celena Rae, who played very well to the kids, getting them riled up and excited for the program. She also tagged each player with a cutesy nickname that they tried to ignore, but all the kids kept referring to - Ott became Tater T’Otter, Petersen was dubbed Sweetie Petey and Pardy became Smarty Pardy.

“The more you read, the more you will learn and discover,” Rae told the kids. “Some of my favorite moments are the quiet times at home when I can sit down with a good book and escape for a little while.”

Also on hand were a few Ice Girls, as well as representatives from sponsors JCPenney, Half Price Books and A # 1 Air. Half Price Books even brought their bookworm mascot.

“Half Price Books has been involved with Stars Stick With Reading for several years now, and we’re really excited to do it again this year,” said Becky Gomez, Marketing Communications Manager for Half Price Books. “We love kicking it off by donating books to the rally school, and so we’ve donated almost 2,000 mixed kids books to this school today, and reading carts, that they can use for their library. And we’ve brought BW the Bookworm, but this just focuses in on what we love to support as a company, getting kids to read, getting kids excited about reading. So it’s a no-brainer for us to be a part of it.”

Started in 1998 to encourage kids to read during leisure time, the program boasted over 20,000 participants last season, representing 988 classrooms in 31 different school districts throughout the Metroplex.

The program tracks the kids’ extra-curricular reading over an eight-week span through early December, and offers exciting, enviable rewards for kids to shoot for.  Prizes are awarded in three different age groups, to the child and the classroom that reads the most. There are several desirable incentives for the kids to read, such as free Stars tickets and a chance to meet-and-greet with Ott before a home game at the American Airlines Center.

“The prizes are set up in different stages,” Ott explained. “And at the very end of it, they have a full meet-and-greet before one of the games and the kids get to bring their family to a game at the end of the year. It turns out to be a real special day for the kids and it’s great to see their efforts that they put into it throughout the year.”

“It’s super-exciting,” Gomez said of the Stars players’ involvement. “Any time someone like these popular players can really give their excitement about reading, it helps us do what we need to do, by getting books in hands and getting kids reading and getting kids excited about reading. Nobody can do it better than these guys. The kids really look up to them as role models.”

That was evident by the overwhelming response the well-behaved Taylor Elementary children gave the Stars players, a reaction that Ott insisted was the best he’s ever witnessed since he took over as program spokesman.

And while he now has a legion of new fans calling him Tater T’Otter, that’s still a good sign that the program will once again be embraced by the children of the Metroplex.

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