It's difficult to not be motivated by a championship team, especially when the players are surprise guests to the classroom.

The March 10 visit from the Ohio State University women's hockey team was the latest piece of "fan mail" received by Heather Slisher's third-grade class at Taylor Road Elementary School, 8200 Taylor Road.

This year, Slisher structured her reviews for state math and reading assessments around hockey themes, using sports analogies to encourage her students.

"It started as a way to alleviate the students' fears of having to pass the state tests" coming up next month, Slisher said. "This school year, we went to the Columbus Blue Jackets' Science of Hockey Day, so I thought it would be great to switch my test-prep theme to hockey.

"For some of my students, that day was the first time they've ever been in Nationwide Arena, let alone seen an ice rink. Part of the day involved taking the students on the ice, and they got to see some CBJ players practice."

Each student in Slisher's class created a hockey jersey using the school's makerspace.

They plan to wear the personalized hockey sweaters on test days "because athletes have to have a uniform," Slisher said.

"I told them we were entering training camp to prepare for our state tests -- aka the big game," she said. "Just like any good athlete, practice is essential. It's the same thing when it comes to education; you have to practice. This is something that hooks them and gets their attention."

In January, Slisher sent letters to the professional and college hockey teams in the state, detailing her class' plan to "shoot and score."

"I asked them for 'fan mail,' and I said it could be a letter wishing us good luck, a picture of the team or something to decorate our classroom," Slisher said. "I told the teams that the possibilities are endless and if they wanted to deliver the fan mail in person, we'd love visitors."

She soon received replies.

A stick and pucks signed by players and coaches from the University of Dayton are displayed in a window.

Hanging by the classroom door is a team poster autographed by Kent State University team members.

A picture of Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is posted on another wall beside his handwritten letter of encouragement.

An accent to the "fan mail" is the hockey gear throughout the classroom.

"The other great part about doing this is when we get the mail, it's a great way to expose the kids to all the different colleges the state of Ohio has to offer," Slisher said. "There's a lot of amazing schools in Ohio so it was nice to be able to expose them to those other schools that are here. And coach Tortorella from the CBJ sent us a personalized letter and photo."

The Ohio State women's team responded with a special delivery.

Their visit came two days after their first Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship March 8.

"The secretary came on and announced that I had fan mail that wouldn't fit in my mailbox, so I went to the office to get them and that's when I saw that they brought the WCHA trophy with them," Slisher said. "We had been talking about the different levels of hockey in class and how the OSU women's hockey team is breaking all kind of records, so the look on the kids' faces as the team slowly walked in carrying that trophy, they could not believe it.

Slisher said she expected "maybe a couple players" to visit.

Instead, 21 of the team's 22 players filed into the classroom to a chorus of cheers and shrieks, as well as stunned looks from some students, most of whom were in Ohio State gear.

The team arrived with an autographed jersey and stick that will have their place in the classroom.

Team captain Olivia Soares showed off the WCHA trophy, earning another round of cheers.

Soares, a senior from Boston, said the team has visited other schools to meet students and read with them, but "this one is special. It's not a hi and bye."

"For us, we get to share a sport we love," Soares said. "We want to grow women's hockey and showcase what we're doing as a program.

"It's a way for us to give back."

Each player brought a personalized letter for a student, and following a short introduction from Slisher, each player met with "her" student. Soon thereafter, each student and "his" or "her" player walked together to the gymnasium to play floor hockey, have a Q&A session and an autograph line.

"It was just like they do at the university, when the team does signings, so it's a pretty big deal when you're in third grade. I do think I've created a few hockey fans," Slisher said.

"We actually got to play hockey with them," third-grader Jason Hairston said. "And I was really surprised to see the trophy."

For classmate Mia Heckman, the letter had the strongest impression and one that is expected to last.

"It was really neat to get the letter," she said. "I want to show it to my parents and then keep it in a safe place."

Knowing that third-graders can be, well, third-graders, Slisher said she would laminate each letter for safe-keeping.

"What happened today really left me speechless. I didn't expect the entire team ... that was amazing," Slisher said.

"In my opinion, half the battle is getting kids to believe in themselves. It means the world to the students to know that the Buckeyes believe in them too."

Soares said the smiles from the students and seeing their enjoyment added to the special feeling of the one-hour visit, which culminated in a collective "Thank you" from the students and a huddle of players and students that ended, of course, with a "One, two, three ... Go Bucks!"

ThisWeek managing editor Lee Cochran contributed to this story.

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