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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | Eric Sondheimer

Chatsworth Athletes Display Knack for Word Play

May 03, 2000|Eric Sondheimer

Four boys at Winnetka Avenue Elementary School in Canoga Park nearly fell out of their chairs trying to move closer to their 6-foot-6 teacher.

What created such excitement among the third-graders?

The teacher showing a video game? The teacher offering ice cream? The teacher trading Pokemon cards?

None of the above. On this day, the boys were fascinated with Adam Drell, a senior basketball player at Chatsworth High who was reading from the book, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie."

Five other Chatsworth players were reading, "It's Melting," and "How Much is a Million" to more than two dozen third-graders in room 31.

The athletes took an hour off from school to teach the youngsters the importance of learning to read.

"Our kids were so excited, their eyes were just as wide open as the little kids'," said Fluke Fluker, athletic director at Chatsworth.

Fluker came up with the idea of having high school athletes read to the third-graders.

At first, the Chatsworth players seemed overwhelmed. The kids were so eager to learn, they wanted to all talk at once. It was up to the Chatsworth players to take charge. Soon, there was controlled interaction, with kids reading on their own.

Players smiled at corny one-liners; kids pleaded to receive stickers for completing the assignment.

Meanwhile, the young students' real teachers looked on, thrilled that teenagers were taking the time to serve as role models to special education students suddenly energized to read.

"I think it's wonderful," Principal Maria Villasenor said. "Adults working with them is nice, but the fact these are kids reading with students will encourage them to do the same thing."

It's not easy convincing elementary school students to concentrate for an extended period. But the Chatsworth players boldly went about their task and gained confidence as the kids responded.

"I like kids and it's fun to read to them and see their expressions," said 6-6 freshman Daniel Kitzes. "It's hard. You have to work with them to make sure they know what they're doing. It makes me feel good to see all these kids learning instead of sleeping through third grade."

In 20 minutes of reading, it's doubtful the kids learned any new words from the Chatsworth players. But hopefully a powerful message was imprinted in their minds that learning to read is imperative.

Fluker introduced himself by asking all the kids, "How many people want to play a sport when they get older?"

Virtually everyone in the class raised their hand.

"You must be a student first," Fluker said.

If kids can learn to read by third grade, the rest of their school days will go much smoother.

And, if high school athletes can be positive role models to elementary school students, their own self-esteem and self-confidence will receive a giant boost to help them deal with the challenges of adulthood.

Fluker wants to organize more reading caravans. It's a worthy investment for the futures of all involved.

*

Crespi has started a drug-testing program that is mandatory for all athletes.

As many as six athletes a week are randomly chosen for testing from a spring semester pool of 206. Either a stick is inserted under the student's tongue to check for alcohol or they submit a urine sample. The school purchased test kits to check the samples.

"It's gone very well," Athletic Director Rich Fong said. "We've had nothing but great comments. We feel there's a lot of peer pressure and we wanted to give [athletes] an out. If there's a party Friday or Saturday night, they can say, 'No, I can't do this, I might be tested Monday or Tuesday.' We wanted to be the heavy."

The first positive test requires the student to meet with his parents, the principal, campus drug counselor and varsity head coach. A second positive test will result in suspension from the team.

Crespi is using a percentage of money raised from on-campus soft drink machines to fund the tests.

"We choose to do it for athletics because it's a safety issue," Fong said.

*

The Crescenta Valley baseball team will hold fan appreciation night Friday at Stengel Field in Glendale. Throughout the Falcons' Pacific League game against Arcadia, prizes will be awarded. And it should be a great game, too. Starting time is 7. . . .

Former Taft quarterback Brandon Hance completed nine of 14 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns in Purdue's final spring game on Saturday. He also rushed for 48 yards. Not bad for someone who was in high school in January. . . .

For those who can never get enough of high school basketball, North Hollywood will host Grant at 8 p.m. Monday in a battle for first place in the Huskies' boys' spring league. The game features two of the best seniors-to-be from the Sunset Six League in 6-foot-4 1/2 Kenny Hauser of North Hollywood and 6-6 Mike Charleston of Grant.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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