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"Smarty Marty" Sticks With Reading

by Olivia Kiespert / Dallas Stars

Congratulations to the Winners of the 2009-10 Dallas Stars Stick with Reading Program!

Grade Level K–2:

Audrey Mba, McKenzie Elementary

Grade Level 3–5:
Athina Koumbaridore, Taylor Elementary

Grade Level 6–8:
Jenesis Campbell, Community Middle School

Classroom Winner:
Leslie Gant’s Fourth Grade Class, Amos Elementary

School Winner:
Ronald E. McNair Elementary

Stick With Reading kicked off its 2009 campaign this past week with a rally at Sam Houston Elementary School in Dallas. The school, currently celebrating its centennial, is Dallas ISD’s oldest continuous operating school still in its original building. What better way to celebrate such a milestone than with some good books and the Dallas Stars?

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“Smarty Marty” Turco, the program’s spokesman since the 2001-02 season, and teammates Matt Niskanen and Jamie Benn, joined hundreds of eager young readers to discuss the importance and advantages of reading.

An avid fan of reading, Turco didn’t think twice about returning for yet another season as spokesman.

“I continue to do this for the kids and for the success that I know this program has on the children involved in it,” he says. “The kind of inspiration that could possibly come from it, and the letters that I’ve received from parents, teachers and even the students about their new desire to learn or their continued desire to keep reading have been amazing to read. I have heard and seen firsthand what the effects of the program can do.”

The kick-off rally, emceed by Stars’ hostess Celena Rae, included personal stories by both Rae and Turco about the effect reading has had on their lives. The students got involved with a question and answer session with the players that included questions ranging from, “What was your greatest challenge in school,” to “Do you get cold when you play hockey.“

Although Turco’s goal is to inspire the students and give back to the community, he says he gets something out of the experience every year. For him, the best aspect of his job as spokesman is personally interacting with the students during the kick-off rally.

“[Coming out to the school for the rally] is actually the best part of it all,” Turco says. “You get to see the kids firsthand and the excitement on their faces, the passion they have in getting to be part of the celebration. The kids are quite amazing and enthusiastic, and for us to just come and be a part of that is amazing.”

The entire auditorium enjoyed a reading of “Bats at the Library” courtesy of Turco, with Niskanen as his book-holder and page-turner.

Turco was grateful that his teammates came out to support him, the program and, most importantly, the students. For Niskanen, helping Turco and getting involved in Stick With Reading was an easy decision.

“Reading, for elementary kids, and really everyone, is very important,” Niskanen says. “It’s something I believe in, and any chance to help out Marty for a good cause like this is an excellent opportunity.All the kids are excited to see Marty. They are all screaming and getting excited about a very good cause.”

School librarian Maria Hare was responsible for signing up Sam Houston and says this is the first year her school has participated in the program.

“This is a new program that the children have never participated in before,” she says.  “I thought it was great opportunity for the children to get to know the game of hockey and also get excited about reading. It was great for [the players] to share their experiences and the importance of reading with the kids. Reading has helped them succeed and get them where they are now. I hope the students see their success and can get motivated by them.”

The program is presented by MetroPCS and JCPenney, both of whom see Stick With Reading as an ideal opportunity to reach out and support the metroplex’s youth.

“It’s extremely exciting to come into an event where we can help 20,000 kids learn to appreciate reading and help further their studies,” says Steve Seay, MetroPCS’ Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “It’s heartwarming for the kids to get excited and see these guys who are larger-than-life athletes on television. For them to come out and teach these kids the most important lesson in life – to get a good education.”

Stick With Reading is an eight-week program that was established in 1998 to encourage Dallas-are kids to develop the habit of reading in their free time. Students record their reading and are rewarded at the end of the program with various incentives, including a private meet-and-greet with Turco for one lucky reader.

The program will begin on Monday October 19 and will run through December 13. More than 20,000 students have signed up for the program this year.

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