STARKVILLE, Miss. – The venue was full and the crowd was cheering. That’s a normal experience for most student-athletes at Mississippi State, but Thursday afternoon the venue was the gymnasium at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary and the crowd was fourth-grade students.
Members of the Bulldog softball team joined other MSU student-athletes for a pep rally promoting Bully’s Book Blitz, a program that stresses the importance of reading to students at the local elementary school. The fourth graders compete against each other to see which class can read the most books in one month.
“It means a lot to us to be able to give back,” senior Alison Owen said. “They’re the ones who come out and support our games. This is our chance to come out and support them.”
The group of softball players in attendance met the elementary students as they walked into the gym for the assembly and helped lead the group in cheers.
“We live by our team’s core covenants of Selflessness, Excellence and Competitiveness - SEC,” senior Logan Foulks explained. “We try to share that [belief system] with the community. To get out here and give to students this age is a great opportunity.”
Head coach Vann Stuedeman spoke to the fourth graders and encouraged them to read in order to give their best efforts to win the competition.
“The reason that we’re here [at Mississippi State] is not just athletics, but academics, too,” Owen said. “You want to make sure that’s the No. 1 priority and that they’re doing athletics on the side. After their athletic [tenures] are done with, you want to make sure they have the academic side down pat so they can go have a successful career.”
Once Stuedeman and the other speakers at the event wrapped up their presentations, all the fourth graders walked through a rally line formed by the MSU student-athletes. Pompoms were handed out and smiles and high fives were exchanged as the students walked through the line of cheering Bulldogs.
“It’s a great chance for us to demonstrate how competitive we are, whether it’s with a book or on the field,” Foulks explained. “We want to be excellent in everything we do and have the right approach in everything we do.”
“It also helps our own team bonding,” Owen added. “Their classroom is like a team right now, competing to see who can read the most.
“If they can see us come out here and have a good time with each other, they can take that into the classroom and have a good time reading together.”