Courtesy: Spencer Farrin (Moscow, Idaho)
Don Verlin speaks to Russell Elementary on Wednesday.
MBB stops by schools
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 12/12/2012
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MOSCOW, Idaho – In the days preceding the official kick off game of the 2012 Readers as Leaders program, University of Idaho men’s basketball visited a pair of local elementary schools to promote the program and to share some advice for the young students.

Vandal head coach Don Verlin told the students to “make every day a masterpiece,” and emphasized listening skills, whether it be to parents, teachers or coaches. In the midst of finals week at Idaho, he also reminded the students that the Idaho players have to be students first and that if they don’t take care of the academic side, they don’t get to play basketball.

Verlin’s other message to the students was two pieces of homework for the rest of the school year.

“First, I want you to always have a good attitude,” Verlin said to the students at McDonald Elementary. “You can always control your attitude and second, always do your best in everything that you do, whether it’s in reading, writing, math, or even when you’re playing at recess.”

Verlin introduced the Vandal players, asked them what their favorite books were growing up and added trivia questions about each player, whether it was about freshman Ty Egbert’s size-17 shoes or the agricultural export for which senior Wendell Faines’ home state of Nebraska is famous.

“When you walk in there and everyone is just screaming for you, it really does take you back to when you were a kid,” senior Mike McChristian said about the event. “I always like going to the schools and just seeing the kids’ reactions when they meet us. It’s definitely a fun thing to be a part of.”

Sophomore Connor Hill said the event reminds him of times when he was growing up in Post Falls, Idaho, and Gonzaga University players stopped by his school. It also reinforced and reminded all the players of the impact they have on the younger fans.

“You’re a big role model and a lot of these kids look up to you, so we have to be a good example for them,” Hill said. “It’s important to remind them that school comes first and we make sure to tell the kids that we really care about school work and not just our sport.”

The program is in its fifth season and has grown rapidly since its inception in Verlin’s first year at Idaho in 2008-09. It started with just a pair of local schools but has spread to eight local elementary schools as far as Troy and Potlatch.

Under the program, teachers create individual reading goals for their students early in the year. Those who attain the goal earn a Readers as Leaders t-shirt, which gives them free admission to every Idaho home basketball game for the rest of the season. Students who achieve additional Silver and Gold reading levels are entered into a drawing for prizes at Idaho’s regular-season finale against Seattle U on Mar. 9.

The grand prize of a free laptop will be drawn from all the Gold-level readers, while one Gold reader from each school will win a Kindle and one Silver reader from each school earns a $25 gift certificate for books. Last year, more than 2,000 students met their reading goals and earned t-shirts.

The prizes and shirts are made possible by the sponsorship of Michael Pickard and Pickard Orthodontics, which has been with the program for each of the last five years.

Saturday’s basketball game against Walla Walla University is the team’s Readers as Leaders Kickoff Game. Students wearing their shirts will receive free admission, while their accompanying parents receive a discounted $5 price on general admission tickets.
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