Each year, as
elementary schools in Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport wind down their
classes and summer rolls in, the Newport Gulls players go beyond the baseball
field to give back to the youth of Newport County. For five years now, the
People’s Credit Union FANatic About Reading program has placed Gulls players –
themselves collegiate student-athletes aspiring to one day play in the Majors –
in dozens of local classrooms, reading to students and encouraging them to read
books over the summer.
The program, which
culminates with Monday, July 28th’s People’s Credit Union FANatic About Reading
Night at Cardines Field, was founded through the Newport Gulls’ and People’s
Credit Union’s interest in supporting children with a focus on education. Janice
Sullivan, a long-time Gulls volunteer, worked with People’s in launching the program
five years ago, which has achieved consistent success ever since.
This year, the entire
Newport Gulls baseball team has traveled to schools such as Hathaway School,
Portsmouth Middle School, Melville Elementary School, and Pell Elementary
School, just to name a few. Each reading session, the team travels to an elementary
school, and each player is assigned to a specific classroom. The player reads a
picture book to the classroom, and the children excitedly ask the Gulls players
questions at the end of the story.
At Hathaway School in
Portsmouth, it was clear that most of the students have attended Newport Gulls
baseball games before. In one kindergarten class, they even sang the classic
ballpark song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The students were excited to
hear that they would each receive a bookmark – complete with three bases and
home plate to fill out – which encourages them to read at least four books
during the summertime and hit a “home run.”
Each student is able to
receive a free game ticket to the FANatic About Reading Night if they read the four
books and have their parent or guardian initial the Newport Gulls bookmarks,
which are distributed to every school in the program. Over the years, hundreds
of students have been honored on the field in a pregame ceremony. This year,
gates at Cardines Field open at 5 p.m. for FANatic Reading Night for a 6:35
contest against the Gulls division rival, the Plymouth Pilgrims. Pregame
festivities – including students, who are once again welcome on the field to be
honored for their successful completion of the program – begin at 6:10.
“The best part about this program is definitely seeing all of the kids get excited about us visiting and reading to them,” said Gulls infielder Ryan Tufts, who plays for Virginia Tech. “It’s also cool to come back to elementary schools because it brings back fond memories of my own childhood.”
“This is such a rewarding experience because we get to give back to the young community and watch them get so excited to see Newport Gulls baseball players,” said Gulls pitcher Marc Huberman, who hails from the University of Southern California.
Both Tufts and Huberman have participated in similar programs at their own schools, and said they are enjoying the experience again.
“The FANatic About Reading program is one of the Gulls signature programs, and is made possible through the continued support of People’s Credit Union,” said Gulls General Manager Chuck Paiva. “The Gulls are great role models because they are all student-athletes that have each had success in the classroom.”
“Although the Newport Gulls also give back through donations, cash contributions, college and summer camp scholarships, and memorabilia for silent auctions,” Paiva added, “the reading program is something that directly affects the youth of Newport County, and allows them to interact with our players, which is what makes this experience so special.”
The Newport Gulls, members of the 12-team New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL), are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded as the Rhode Island Gulls in 1998 in Cranston, R.I., before moving to Newport in 2001. In addition to recruiting, fielding, and developing a team of the nation’s top collegiate baseball athletes and attracting 50,000 fans annually to historic Cardines Field, the predominantly volunteer organization strives to benefit the youth of Newport County via summer camps, reading programs, fundraisers, scholarships, and charitable donations – totaling nearly $1 million since 2001. The Gulls are five-time champions of the NECBL – the winningest franchise in league history – and were ranked as the overall No. 1 summer collegiate baseball team in the country by Perfect Game USA in 2012.