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Orlando Magic, Orange County Public Schools Team Up To Encourage Reading to Youth

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

Magic players make a huge impact on kids during special event at Amway Center

ORLANDO - The energy from the Amway Center crowd played a big factor in the Orlando Magic’s thrilling victory over the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday night. 

Less than 24 hours later, the Magic’s players replicated that spirit and excitement while back on their home parquet floor. Except this time, it wasn’t triggered by big shots or big defensive stops. 

Rather, it was sparked by something the Magic have deep investment in throughout the Central Florida community. 

Friday’s event was centered on incentivizing reading, and with the attendees being nearly 3,600 Orange County Public School (OCPS) fourth and fifth graders, the decibel meter, as you would expect, hit super-high marks. 

Each Magic player shared important advice with the kids, revealed their favorite books, and participated in various on-the-court activities that linked basketball with academics. This event, held for the third time, was part of the Magic and OCPS’ Pick, Read & Roll program, which started in October 2018 and aims to reward students for their reading accolades. 

“To have a program like this where we can get books in the hands of children at an early age and they can start reading, you give them an opportunity to succeed,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “The kids look up to the players, and anything that a player says, they hang on their every word. When a player can say, ‘it’s important to read’ and ‘it’s important to have favorite books and favorite subjects,’ it sticks with children, and it helps motivate them. Having the players involved is an important component of the program, and it’s a real motivator for the children overall.”

Two of the Magic’s players that grew up in households where education always came before athletics were Wendell Carter Jr. and Jalen Suggs. Both are honored to be in a position where they can make a massive impact on youth and show them what good academic scores can do for their futures. 

“Just to have a positive influence – you want to try to spread that as much as you can,” said Suggs, fresh off his career-best 26-point performance against the Warriors. “You know they like to watch. You know they listen to people in our position. So, having them come out here and have a good time with them (and) play some games, but also kind of spread knowledge, give tips about life, reading, school, or any of that – it’s always a positive.”

Carter, who went to Duke and was also accepted at Harvard, credits his family for his stance on academic matters. He encourages everyone to put their education first and go the extra mile in the classroom because he knows from firsthand experience just how far that can take a person in life. 

“My biggest thing growing up – basketball was never a need-be or all,” he said. “It wasn’t like something that if it didn’t happen, I wasn’t going to be successful. My parents put me in a situation where I was going to be good regardless…I had a chance to do really big things on the academic side…Basketball can end for anybody any day, but when you are mentally (strong), you got your smarts, you are very wise and intelligent, nobody can take that away from you. That’s really what I like to preach to kids – be able to study something or do something that nobody can take away from you.”

This year, the Pick, Read & Roll program provided 3,517 fourth grade students who are the top readers in Orange County the opportunity to attend Friday’s blockbuster event. Also, 144 fifth graders were commemorated during the event for their reading achievements. 

Since the inaugural event in 2019, students at the participating Title 1 schools achieved a 30 percent increase in their reading scores compared to students at Title 1 schools that did not participate, according to OCPS. This also surpassed the average increase of all other schools. 

The annual program, open to fourth grade OCPS students, rewards those with the greatest reading improvements the opportunity to attend an exclusive kids-only event featuring Magic players at Amway Center. The program measured the growth and improvements of each student’s reading skills over the course of the 2021-22 school year. 

“This is a phenomenal opportunity,” OCPS Deputy Superintendent Michael Armbruster said. “What the Magic do, what it does to inspire our kids, what it does to get them excited about reading – it’s unbelievable. We’re thrilled to be able to partner with them every time we get the chance.”