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Punt, Pass and Read

Storytelling Gridders Score Big with Youngsters


Caledonia High School varsity football player Justin Heaton read Dr. Seuss’ children’s book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” to kindergartners at Emmons Lake Elementary.

“You have brains in your head,” Justin read. “You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

About 30 varsity football players, dressed in their Fighting Scots jerseys, steered themselves between the district’s elementary schools to spend an afternoon reading to students.

An annual tradition in Caledonia since 2005, the event marks March is Reading Month and is about building relationships, giving back and serving as role models, said head football coach Tom Burrill. Football players visited all elementary schools: Emmons Lake, Caledonia, Paris Ridge, Kettle Lake Dutton and Kraft Meadows.

Kindergartners applaud for their guest readers
Kindergartners applaud for their guest readers

They took turns reading and answered questions, often about football and high school from eager youngsters.

“They’re such cute little guys,” said sophomore Justin Kline. “One kid reminded me of me because he was always looking around. I remember that grade. It was so much fun. It was so long ago.”

Perhaps inspired by Dr. Seuss, teammates reminisced about the places they’ve gone since they were tiny tots themselves, including from the playground to the football field. They remembered walking the halls of the elementary schools they went to, playing ball and being awed by football players who took time to read to them.

Reading to the children is just a lot of fun, they said.

Justin Heaton reads to Emmons Lake kindergarten students, while teammates Justin Kline, Brendan Hammer and Jeromy Starkey listen in

“It’s an opportunity to teach them and help them,” said sophomore Brendan Hammer. “They look up to us. … It’s just awesome.”

Coach Burrill said the high school boys sometimes get to join the elementary students for recess. “Our kids in the end have more fun than they do, because they get to act like elementary kids again.”

Emmons Lake students said they love meeting the football players. “I really like football. They’re awesome. They work hard,” said kindergartner Cole Bremyer.

“I’ve never seen a football player before in person!” said kindergartner Emma Herbert.

From left, football players Ty McClellan, Cam Watrous, Carter Osborn and Evan Vermetti visit kindergartners
From left, football players Ty McClellan, Cam Watrous, Carter Osborn and Evan Vermetti visit kindergartners

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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