Naturally, hockey takes center stage this week as the Stars host their first NHL All-Star Game. But there was another subject on the agenda Tuesday morning that is also near and dear to the hearts of the Stars -- reading -- when Marty Turco, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen visited Claude Curtsinger Elementary School in Frisco.The trio made the appearance for a pep rally, reading session and autograph signing in support of the Dallas Stars Supercuts Stick with Reading program. Curtsinger Elementary won the special NHL All-Star visit because its students took top honors among 1,600 participating schools in North Texas by reading the most minutes in their leisure time.
Recognizing that illiteracy has become one of the most pervasive problems in our country, the Dallas Stars Foundation in 1998 created the Stick with Reading program with support from Supercuts. Turco currently serves as spokesman, encouraging students to develop the healthy habit of reading in their leisure time. Since its inception, the program has reached more than 100,000 kids.
Stick with Reading had a record enrollment of 36,000 students this season, and Curtsinger Elementary captured the top prize. Other prize categories include the top reader in each grade level (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) who will receive tickets to a Stars regular-season game, where they will meet Turco and receive a Turco-autographed jersey as well as in-game recognition. The top reading classroom will also get Stars tickets and in-game recognition.
This season's program got underway on Oct. 9, 2006 with a rally at the J.W. Ray Learning Center in Dallas.
About 700 students as well as parents and teachers filled the Curtsinger Elementary auditorium on Tuesday morning. Clad mostly in Stars paraphernalia, the kids and adults saved their loudest cheers for the arrival of the three players, accompanied by mascots of the Vancouver Canucks, Phoenix Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders.
MC Celina Rae introduced the players, and then the students heard from Turco, who extolled the merits of reading and praised the winning school. "This is my favorite part of the week,'' said the Stars All-Star goaltender. "I'm so proud of you guys. Today is a special day. These are the best of the best readers.''
Rae moderated a question-and-answer session during which Morrow named the "Curious George'' series as his all-time favorite books, Jokinen recalled that he started skating as a 3-year-old, and Turco named Wayne Gretzky as his favorite athlete "not only because he was the greatest player but also because he cared about his teammates.''
The session, which lasted almost two hours, wrapped up with the students lining up for autographed player cards.
Turco counts Mitch Albom, the writer of "Tuesdays with Morrie'' and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven'' as his favorite author.
"We travel so much in planes and buses and are on the road so much with so much downtime that you have a lot of time to read,'' Turco said. "Also having young children (two daughters) helps. It's a habit I've had since I was young. I read just before I go to bed, which is tough sometimes with a good book because you don't want to put it down.''
Turco's parents read at home in Sault St. Marie, Ont. and he has maintained the love of books throughout his life.
"My parents read and I had two older sisters who pushed me in education,'' Turco said. "For me, reading comes from wanting to learn, the ability of writers to make you think. I like non-fiction, fiction. My interests are varied.''
Morrow, the team captain who signed dozens of autographs despite the fact that he is recovering from severed tendons in his wrist that will keep him out of the Stars' lineup for at least another month, became a serious reader as a teen-ager when he moved from his hometown of Carlyle, Sask. to Portland, Ore. for junior hockey.
Early in high school, Morrow had mediocre grades. He was told that if he wanted to continue to play hockey, he'd have to improve. He became more serious about reading, boosting his academic standing to the point that he was named top scholastic player of the Western Hockey League for two years.
"It comes from my parents, the hard work and dedication that they had,'' Morrow said. "My wife and I have a little girl now and she likes us to sing to her and read to her. So I find time to read. I like golf magazines to try to fix my game.''
Jokinen became an avid reader in his native Finland, and he also utilizes the downtime during long team flights and bus rides for sports non-fiction and books about history.
"I started reading when I was a 6-year-old,'' Jokinen said. "We have a lot of time to ourselves on the road and I use that to read about things that interest me.''
The students at Curtsinger Elementary were thrilled to meet their hockey heroes, but the three Stars left equally impressed by a school full of serious readers.