Coaches Roll with the Book Bus

Everyone who stepped on to the Rolling Thunder Book Bus on Friday morning was experiencing the bus for the first time.

Not only were 80 first-graders from Central Elementary in Moore new to this process, four Thunder coaches made their first Book Bus visit.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Mo Cheeks of when he first stepped on the bus.

Max Trakh added, “I can see the kids walking on the bus and being wide-eyed.”

They all made themselves rather quickly at home.

Head Coach Scott Brooks, along with Assistant Coaches Mark Bryant, Cheeks and Trakh, found their niches in the whole process, from Bryant high-fiving the kids as they stepped on to the bus, to Brooks and Cheeks walking students through the books appropriate for their age, to Trakh trying to sell kids on picking out some of his favorites.

“The first book I saw was Curious George – that was my favorite book,” Trakh said. “It was the first one to go, too.”

Brooks interrupted the interview with Trakh shortly thereafter to tease him about whether or not he’s really read any books. Trakh took the joke in stride.

“I can neither confirm nor deny it,” he laughed.

Good humor was in ample supply, helping make the kids feel comfortable about walking on this giant blue school bus and being greeted by a group of adults – including the towering Bryant, who had to sit in the driver’s seat because the bus was too small for him to stand.

The coaches seemed most struck, however, by the interest and determination of the kids coming to select their book.

“The kids actually knew what they wanted, what they liked to read,” Cheeks said. “That was kind of impressive for kids their age.”

One boy came on the bus determined to find a copy of “The Magic School Bus,” perhaps inspired by the visiting vehicle. The coaches searched high and low, eventually enlisting the help of Book Bus Coordinator Debbie Williams, who was able to locate one copy of the book. The young boy wasn’t the only one whose face lit up when he finally grasped the book in his arms.

“Kids just like to read – that’s the best part of it,” added Cheeks.

With a book in hand, the students received a bracelet and a bookmark from Bryant when they stepped off, then walked to a patch of grass to sit in the sun and read.

Roy Bishop of American Fidelity Assurance Company, presenting sponsor of the Thunder’s reading programs, said that’s his favorite part.

“I love sitting and talking with the kids – finding out what books they got, what books they do read and the stories that they do tell,” he said.

Bishop knows how unique this program is and how special it can be for kids.

The Rolling Thunder Book Bus is only one of two programs of its kind in the NBA, and though the Thunder has handed out more than 40,000 books since the program’s inception, it doesn’t stop generating joy with every visit.

“This is a great community project,” Bishop added. “It’s an opportunity for some kids to get their first book that they’ve ever actually owned. It’s always surprising to people when they hear that.” As the children gathered to get a group photo in front of the bus with all the coaches, one child ran past, hugging his new find and yelling, “I love this boooook!”

Moments like that are part of the reason why the Thunder puts so much effort into the Book Bus and other literacy programs.

More than the immediate payoff, though, the Thunder invests in these programs for the moments we never see, when one day of excitement about reading or one book starts to inspire a lifetime of joy for reading and learning.

Presented by American Fidelity Assurance Company, the Rolling Thunder Book Bus travels to schools, community centers, museums, parks and other sites throughout the year to promote reading and literacy. Each student who visits the bus receives a free book. The book bus includes an inventory of at least 3,000 books for pre-school through fifth-grade readers. For more information about the Book Bus, CLICK HERE.