A program that began last fall in which St. Francis DeSales High School student athletes took time to read to the youngsters at St. Anthony School has evolved to include faculty and staff members.

A program that began last fall in which St. Francis DeSales High School student athletes took time to read to the youngsters at St. Anthony School has evolved to include faculty and staff members.

Read with a Stallion, as it was called after being launched by St. Anthony School librarian and accelerated reading coordinator Claire Hatem, is modeled on a nonprofit organization started by three former Ohio State University football players that encourages youngsters to become enthusiastic about books.

"It has been a huge success," Hatem said.

However, DeSales High athletes tend to have very busy schedules, so it was sometimes difficult to find as many readers as Hatem would like, so she began recruiting other students, staff members, coaches and even Principal Dan Garrick.

Bill Steller, dean of students and band director at St. Francis DeSales, only got to go to St. Anthony and read to students once, but he wants to go back.

"I had a great time," he said last week. "I got to read with a group of them and it was fun because I had a big picture book and I got to show them all the pictures.

"I wish I could do it every day."

For Ryan Wiggins, head football coach at DeSales since 2007, reading to students at the feeder elementary was a sort of trip down memory lane.

"First of all, I went to St. Anthony, spent a lot of time in that school, in those hallways, on that field and in the church," Wiggins said.

Wiggins graduated from St. Anthony in 1993 and DeSales four years later.

"It's fun to see their reactions," he said of reading to kids in kindergarten, first and second grade. "It's probably fun for them to see a fresh face. The enjoyment the kids get out of it - to me, that was rewarding.

"I know we're going to take some players back over to read to them, and those kids are going to look at them like superstars."

"It's hard sometimes to get boys to read anything, let alone something they don't want to read," Hatem said.

But when it's the football coach or principal of the high school they plan to attend encouraging them to read, that can make a difference, she added.

"They've reached goals and they're successful," Hatem said. "It's definitely improved things, mostly for a lot of the young men in the building."

Hatem has been in touch with staff members at St. James and St. Matthias schools about expanding Read with a Stallion to their students.

Hatem said she will soon be holding meetings about extending the program to all of the DeSales feeder schools.