By Joe Southern
Although the boys of summer are still enjoying their off season, the Sugar Land Skeeters are staying busy encouraging schoolchildren to read.
That is to say the Skeeters’ not-so-bookish mascot Swatson and his support staff are making the rounds to elementary schools throughout the region holding pep rallies to encourage reading and other helpful habits. This is the sixth and most ambitious year for the Skeeters Reading Program. Community Relations Manager Sallie Weir and Mascot Coordinator Zach Bohls take the green, furry mosquito to schools where children are not only encouraged to read, study and take care of their health, but they are given a booklet and an opportunity to earn free tickets to a Skeeters game at Constellation Field.
“This is one of my favorite things we do each year,” said Assistant General Manager Kyle Dawson, who oversees the program.
Capitalizing on the Skeeters winning the Atlantic League championship last season, the team revamped the program and made a new booklet to give away. They printed 75,000 copies of Swatson’s Guide to Becoming a Champion and gave a copy to each student who attends the program. The book was underwritten by TDECU and is a sequel of sorts to the Super Student booklet used the last two years.
The booklet, like the program, takes the reader through eight steps to become a champion. Those steps include things like getting a good night’s sleep, eating well, studying hard, improving your skills and helping others.
During the program, Weir narrates while Swatson acts out a skit or engages young volunteers in a contest that hits home the point of the character trait being made. After each one, a card listing that trait is placed on a stand. In the end, they spell out the acronym CHAMPION. The new booklet and program came about after the baseball team won its first championship last year.
“We sat down as a team and came up with ideas about what we wanted to do,” Dawson said.
Since the first booklet used an acronym for Swatson, they decided to build the program around being a champion.
“Zach (Bohls) and Sallie (Weir) put it together with (graphic designer) Jake’s (Vyner) help,” Dawson said of the booklet.
A group effort went into the project with Bohls doing a lot of the artwork, Weir doing most of the writing and Vyner doing the editing and fine-tuning.
“Once we had the book, it was Zach and I coming up with the program,” Weir said.
Dawson said they consulted with schools to see what habits and character traits they were trying to instill in childen. They took those and related it to baseball.
“We talk about applying study habits and compare that to applying your skills at practice,” Bohls said.
“We’re excited about it,” Weir said. “It’s a good way to promote our championship and promote reading.”
Dawson explained that at the end of each program, the booklet is given to the children. Inside is a bookmark where they can track the books they read. After they read four books, the take the bookmark to their teacher. The teacher exchanges the bookmarks for ticket vouchers good for free lawn seats at a Skeeters game. The teachers are also given free tickets.
The reading program has grown exponentially since it began five years ago. It began with a small crew from the Skeeters going to a few local schools and in the end the children received a bookmark. The first booklet was made two years ago, but as the program grew and more schools became involved, the need arose to enhance and streamline the program. Now two staff members, Weir and Bohls, escort Swatson around the region.
They get invited to elementary schools throughout Fort Bend ISD, Lamar CISD, Stafford MSD and travel as far as Needville, West Columbia, El Campo and Brazoria. They also do private schools and home school groups.
“We get the kids involved,” Dawson said. “Once they see Swatson, I think they’re fans.”
He said the program is the biggest community program done by the Skeeters organization and it’s a win-win for everyone involved. The children get an incentive to read and free tickets, the schools get reinforcement of values they are teaching and the Skeeters get more visitors to the ballpark.
“We’re seeing more and more come in and redeem their vouchers,” Dawson said.
To learn more about the program or to arrange to bring the program to your school, visit www.sugarlandskeeters.com and look for the Skeeters Reading Program under the Community tab.