Grove City Record

Christmas with the Cougars

Athletes reach out to kids at library

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Westland junior volleyball player Maria Turner, 16 (left) makes paper Christmas tree ornaments along with sophomore teammate Katlyn Budd, 15, while waiting before the start of Christmas with the Cougars, a reading event with Westland High School athletes held Thursday, Dec. 13 at the Westland Area Library, 4740 W. Broad St.

A new program at the Westland Area Library in which Westland High School athletes read to younger students is off to a good start.

Ten student athletes participated in the first session, which was held Dec. 13 at the library.

"I wasn't sure what kind of response we would get, but I was really pleased that 10 athletes showed up," said Jane Barnhart, the youth services team leader at Westland Library. "It was a good number given it was our first program.

"We had both boys and girls and a good mix of sports represented, including football, cross-country, girls volleyball, girls soccer and boys baseball," Barnhart said.

The athletes served as guest readers at the special story time for families, and were asked to wear something that reflects the sport they play, she said. The players also answered questions about their sport from the youngsters.

"It was really nice the way the older kids interacted with the younger ones," Barnhart said.

"One of the things I've learned from many years of doing this is that kids will relate to other kids, even if they are older," she said.

Since it is the holiday season, Barnhart said she selected Christmas books for the athletes to read to the younger students.

The Reading with the Cougars program is inspired by a monthly program in which members of the Westland High School Key Club read to younger students, she said.

The idea for doing a program with athletes came from conversations she had with her husband, Bob, who is the president of the Westland Athletic Boosters.

"We were talking about the Key Club program and about how many people don't understand the requirements students have to meet in order to play sports," Barnhart said. "They don't understand how difficult it is for them to keep their grades up so they can play."

That dedication to academics is a good lesson and example for younger students to follow, she said.

Bob Barnhart helped spread the word about the reading program through the Boosters' liaisons to each Westland team.

Jane Barnhart said she was able to arrange for the athletes to earn hours toward their community service requirements for their participation in the reading program.

The program will continue with Winter Tales with the Cougars on Jan. 17 and Friendship Tales with the Cougars on Feb. 21. Both programs will start at 7 p.m. at the library.

No registration is required.