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April 14, 2009


COLUMBIA, S.C. – The University of South Carolina women’s basketball team started its day with a morning visit to Meadowfield Elementary to honor the 434 Mustangs that helped their school read more pages in the “Reading with the Gamecocks” Program than any other school in the state. Meadowfield also boasted the top third- and fourth-grade readers in the state in Alyssa Paul and Taylor Washington, respectively, who each received an autographed copy of the Reading Heroes comic book from head coach Dawn Staley.

“With a lot of our teachers and staff huge Gamecock followers, this is an intriguing way for us to get our students hooked into reading through their love of competition,” Meadowfield Elementary principal Paula Stephens said. “Our P.E. teacher, Susan Walker, is a South Carolina alum and every year takes this on as her personal teaching challenge, using sports to encourage reading.”

Meadowfield has participated in the program since its inception 10 years ago and has won the school title eight times, finishing as the runner-up to Lake Carolina Elementary in 2008. So, the visit from the Gamecocks is nearly an annual tradition at the school. This year, the Mustangs that participated read 280,134 pages over their Winter Break (Dec. 15-Jan. 4) to bring the title back to Meadowfield.

“Winning the contest is one of our school goals,” Stephens said. “We strive to win every year, and it was so disappointing to fall short by a few pages last year. We have many ways to keep our students motivated in the program, but I don’t want to share our secrets. I’ll just say that it might involve animals other than Gamecocks – maybe Tigers or Gators.”

The Gamecocks spent an hour with the kindergarten through second grade students before meeting with the third through fifth graders in the second hour of the visit. Staley talked to the students about the importance of reading and being motivated by competition. Then, the top reader from each home room got to play full-court basketball with the Gamecock student-athletes.

“Reading is like dribbling in basketball,” Staley told the students. “It is the basic thing you learn first that will help you in everything else you do. Reading is important to learn grammar and expand your vocabulary, and it allows you to learn about everything else out there.”

In the second session, Staley brought Paul and Washington to the court to congratulate them on reading more pages than anyone else in their grade statewide and present their comic books with a personal note.

“It was cool to find out that I won,” Paul said. “I was excited because I didn’t win last year. So, I read even more – 4,811 pages.”

“It was good to read over Winter Break rather than laying on the couch or playing video games,” Washington said. “I’m happy I got to play with the Gamecocks. It’s exciting for them to come to our school.”

In its 10th year, the “Reading with the Gamecocks” Program had a record 103 elementary schools state wide participate. In all, 4,395 students read 1.9 million pages. Each participant received a ticket to the women’s basketball game on Feb. 15 where the winner from each school was recognized on the court at halftime and took home a certificate and gift bag. Every participant at the game received a “Reading Heroes” comic book as well.