Orlando Magic Players Encourage Youth to Read During Pick, Read & Roll Event at Amway Center

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Reading has always been a big part of Robin Lopez’s life. He recalls the vast collection of children’s books and magazines his grandparents had at their home. When their mother would drop them off there as kids, he and his twin brother Brook would go through the material and read for hours.

“That’s just something we grew up knowing,” the Orlando Magic center said. “It helped us through school. A lot of stuff that we had to be challenged with in school, that was something we were already acquainted with because we saw it at my grandma’s house, and we saw it through reading.”

Now 33, reading is still a passion of his. His Magic teammates, in fact, say they see him reading books while he’s getting his ankles taped and when he’s stretching out in the locker room before games and practices.

The Magic’s other players enjoy reading, too. Terrence Ross, for instance, is a comic book enthusiast. His favorite book, though, is Ready Player One, which is about video games and pop culture. Jonathan Isaac is an ambassador for Coaching for Literacy, which uses the power of sports to raise awareness about the problem of illiteracy and generate financial support for literacy programs nationwide.

Each Magic player shed light on the importance of reading with over 8,000 Orange County Public School (OCPS) fifth grade students – some in person and many others virtually – during an event on the Amway Center’s main court on Tuesday, Oct. 12. Called “Pick, Read & Roll,” the program incentivizes local youth to improve their reading skills. The 150 kids admitted into the arena were the top readers at their respective Title 1 schools as fourth graders. Due to the pandemic, in-person attendance was limited for the health and safety of the students.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to utilize our platform and the power of our players, the voices of our players in particular, to help students understand the importance of reading and where it can lead them and how it can help them in their futures,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “It’s a great event for us. We love doing it and we love rewarding the kids who have done a great job reading.”

Being able to encourage and inspire youth, especially with their education, is something that means a lot to Wendell Carter Jr., the 22-year-old acquired by Orlando in the middle of last season. Grateful to be in a position where he can motivate others and convey messages others will listen to, Carter aims to prove that anything is attainable with some hard work, dedication and perseverance.

“Being an NBA player, it kind of comes with it,” he said. “You are kind of put on this platform and everybody looks up to you. To be able to give off a great message, I feel like it’s always important. Sometimes people can get caught up in delivering the wrong message to the youth. I feel like with our platform we have the perfect opportunity to give good advice to the youth.”

Originally launched by the Magic and OCPS in October 2018, the “Pick, Read & Roll” program has had enormous success. After this same event was held at Amway Center in 2019, the 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, and surpassed the average increase of all other schools.

“The more touchpoints we have with our children in learning how to read, the more fluent they become in reading,” said Maria Vazquez, deputy superintendent for OCPS. “With the support from the Magic through our Read2Succeed program, which focuses on our early childhood students (and) helping them become better at reading, and then the partnership at the event today, all of those are exceptional opportunities so our children are able to practice their reading, get reinforced for the hard work that they are doing in reading and for them to really engage with people outside of their school and see the meaning and how their efforts will pay off in the future.”

In addition to the Q&A with Magic players, an appearance from STUFF the Magic Mascot, a game of Simon Sez with leader Steve Max and other fun activities, a Magic T-shirt and two tickets to a Magic game were given to the students at Amway Center during Tuesday’s event. All of the students attending virtually will also have an opportunity to go to a Magic home game this season.

The Magic's “Pick, Read & Roll” adds another dimension to community outreach for an organization that’s dedicated to giving back to Central Florida. 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, and the team's community relations programs impact an estimated 100,000 kids each year.

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