Kids Have Blast at Amway Center While Learning Valuable Lesson

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO – Many fourth grade teachers from various Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) can expect their students to be extra motivated for the rest of the school year.

If they are wondering where that additional enthusiasm derived from, the Orlando Magic’s inaugural Pick, Read & Roll event at Amway Center will have probably had something to do with it.

Based on what they heard and saw during the event, which was 250 deserving kids from the grade above them participating in on-court activities with Magic players, the 8,250 fourth graders watching from their arena seats will have every reason in the “book” to push themselves.

“That was the method to the madness,” OCPS Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said. “The fifth graders who had the greatest reading gains because they worked hard were down on the floor. Those were the children participating and the fourth graders were watching. And we wanted them to be incentivized that next year (they are) going to be down on that floor. And when I asked for a commitment from them, all of them think they will be on the floor next year. That was their commitment.”

The Pick, Read & Roll program, designed to encourage children to read more books and reward the fourth graders who do, started in October 2018. Throughout the 2018-19 school year, the program measured the growth and improvements of each individual’s reading skills.

“Today is a perfect example of the power of sport and the platform that we have to be able to have an impact on people’s lives,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “It’s great to see the smiles on their faces. It was great to see them up dancing and enjoying themselves. But the bottom line is that this was a reward for great improvement in reading. I’m really proud of all the kids for being here and we were really happy to put on a good show for them.”

Tuesday’s event, which featured an assortment of fun and entertaining activities, included a Q&A with Magic players Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Evan Fournier, D.J. Augustin, Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba in which they talked about books they have read or are currently reading. Each fifth grader received a Magic basketball while all of the kids were handed a Magic-branded pencil bag with pencils and a bookmark.

Grateful to be in a position where he can help inspire children, Gordon learned at an early age just how important it is to read. Now 24, he says books and other reading material helped him stay sharp throughout his youth and are still a big part of his off-the-court life. The 6-foot-9, 220-pounder is very invested in children and their academics, which is why he and his mother recently started CodeOrlando, a STEM education program for underprivileged students.

“This is incredible, just emphasizing the importance of literacy all over,” the Magic forward said. “Knowledge is power, that is the main message.”

Isaac, who along with Gordon was a co-winner of the Rich & Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award last season, wants the kids to know that there are no shortcuts to success and that they have to take their education very seriously.

“I know every single one of those kids wants to have a successful life, an educated life and be a contributing member to society. If they want to do that then they need to know that reading is a huge part of that,” the 6-foot-11, versatile forward said. “We must reiterate (to children) as adults how important it is to be a proficient reader.”

On an annual basis, the Magic give more than $2 million to the local community by way of sponsorships of events, donated tickets, autographed merchandise and grants. An estimated 100,000 kids are positively impacted each year from the team’s community relations programs.

One of the Magic’s core goals is to help children reach their full potential in school and beyond. From what Jenkins gathered from Tuesday’s extravaganza, more kids are now on the right track to do just that.

“It’s no secret that our children look up to professional athletes but when they hear them talk about their favorite book as a child and what they read now, it makes an impression on our young people,” she said.

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