Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Become Storytellers

In two recent visits to local elementary schools, Buc stars Roman Oben and Keenan McCardell took a hands-on approach to pushing the importance of reading

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Bucs T Roman Oben read a good book to the students of Oldsmar Elementary, but left it up to them to find out the ending

When you stand 6-foot-4, weigh 305 pounds and play football for the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you recognize that the typical third, fourth or fifth-grader is going to look up to you.

That particular description applies to Buc tackle Roman Oben, who visited the Oldsmar Elementary School on a recent afternoon and spoke to a large assembly of appreciative students. Oben understood the adulation he received, but urged the audience to look closer to home for their role modes.

"Take advantage of what your parents and teachers are telling you," Oben told a crowd of over 150 students. "Listen to what they have to say. These are the people that are really shaping your life."

Oben was on hand to help the grade-school students celebrate the completion of their annual "Reading Rendez-Vous." The Reading Rendez-Vous is a program designed to promote excitement about reading and encourage higher student achievement. Students participating in this program have read for 20 minutes a day for at least 20 days during the past six months.

Oldsmar Elementary Principal David Schmitt kicked off the celebration by introducing a native of Cameroon, a very well-studied man who owns a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Louisville and a master's degree in public administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University. The students were aware that a special guest was in the school, but had not been told who it was.

Oben came onstage through a blue curtain, at which point the excitement the students had been bottling up during the introduction exploded into cheers and clapping. When the crowd finally settled down, Oben asked the children if they would mind if he read them a story.

They did not mind, of course, so the eight-year NFL veteran began to recite Mrs. Nelson Has a Field Day, by Harry G. Allard. The story centered on Mrs. Nelson's attempts to get a football team in shape for its big Thanksgiving Day football game. The children listened attentively as Mrs. Nelson began to bring the team together, but Oben stopped short of finishing the story. Urging the kids to read the book on their own, the Buc storyteller left the assembly with a cliffhanger and a prompt: "The ones who have read it know how it ends, but for all of you that haven't read it, now you have a new book to read."

Oben also addressed the students about the important role reading and education has played in his life, touching on his move to the United States from Africa at a young age.

"My mom always stressed education," said Oben. "She knew I enjoyed sports, but she also knew that you cannot achieve success without a solid foundation in education. And coming from another country, the most reliable path to success when you come to America is education and learning as much as you can."

A question and answer session with the students followed Oben's talk, and many of the inquiries regarded his playing career. What number are you? (72.) How much money do you make? (No comment.) How long have you played in the NFL? (Eight years.) How old are you? (Thirty) Before he revealed that final answer, Oben took guesses from the crowd, which ranged startlingly from 35 to 60.

Oben also answered questions about what, when and how often he reads.

"I still read a lot," said the former congressional intern. "I read a lot of biographies. Most recently, I've read books about Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. I'm not the biggest Barkley fan, but it's always interesting to see what's on his mind."

The veteran lineman was also asked why he enjoys reading.

"Because you can do all types of things through reading," said Oben. "You can travel to different places, you can travel through time, you can go wherever your mind takes you."

After the Q&A session, Oben gave the students one more reminder about listening to their teachers, then revealed that he was going to provide each of them with a special treat for their participation in the Reading Rendez-Vous program.

As Oben went backstage to prepare his special gift, the students were treated to ice cream and cookies and given a gift bag with a book, pencils, candy, a bookmark and a balloon. As the children began to leave the auditorium, they were each presented with their special gift, a Buccaneers team photo signed by Oben.

"It's great to have a motivating celebrity like Roman out here to show the kids that reading is important," said Principal Schmitt. "I think it's really neat that he has his master's degree and is able to show the kids that learning is a life-long process. That's what we want our kids to become, life-long learners."

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'Big Keenan' Makes Big Impression

Oben wasn't the only Buccaneer to show his commitment to reading and learning over the past week. Wide receiver Keenan McCardell took time on Thursday to reward the students at Buckhorn Elementary School for the year-long commitment they made to reading in a similar fashion to Oben's, reading a story and answering questions about his life.

"Reading is a great thing," said McCardell to the over 1,000 students, grades K through 5, who had crowded into the school cafeteria. "Read a book and you can be anywhere you want to be."

To demonstrate, McCardell sat down in a rocking chair and took the students on a very important journey with the help of a book titled Don't Laugh at Me.

The book, written by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin and illustrated by Glin Dibley, addressed the every-day differences in people, whether it be glasses or braces or trouble learning math or history. Through Don't Laugh at Me the children learn that everyone is special in his or her own way.

The UNLV graduate spoke to the students about this message after he had finished reading the story. "You should think about who you laugh at, because when they grow up they may be beautiful," said McCardell. "People used to laugh at me and call me 'Little Keenan,' because I was so small, but now I'm playing football and I'm 'Big Keenan.'"

McCardell then took a few minutes to answer questions that the students had submitted on pieces of paper, pulling them at random from a Buccaneers hat. The questions ranged from what it's like to play for coach Jon Gruden (fun) to what his nickname is (K-Mac) to why he wears number 87 (it's the year he graduated high school).

McCardell also revealed that the favorite team he has played for is the Buccaneers and his favorite play was his touchdown catch over Oakland Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson in Tampa Bay's 48-21 Super Bowl victory.

In Buckhorn's case, it was the students who had a special surprise for their visitor as the event wound to a close. As all 1,000 students suddenly and simultaneously burst into a song that proclaimed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the number-one team in the land, McCardell was presented with a Buckhorn Elementary School t-shirt.

McCardell was overwhelmed by the surprise and pleased that he could make the trip out to visit Buckhorn's students. "It's a fun way to let the kids know that we're involved in reading and that education is important," he said. "I was glad just to be able to come out here and do it. We have a lot of Bucs fans all over, even in Brandon. Buc Fever is all over and I'm just glad we could make it out here and touch these kids."

Principal Lou Cerreta knew McCardell's visit would have an impact on his students, but even he was surprised by the energy and enthusiasm the Buccaneers wideout brought out of the students.

"He's a role model for the children," said Cerreta. "His being out here today reinforces everything we're trying to do out here at the school, the importance of working hard, the importance of reading and how important that is to success. Our kids loved it and there was enough energy in that room from our kids to light up the city of Tampa. It was just a great thing for our kids and our school."

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