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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Reading and Rocking

Bucs Darian Barnes, Brad Johnson, Michael Pittman and John Wade used their Tuesday to join the Easter Seals in its annual program to promote literacy and a love of reading


RB Michael Pittman spent his Tuesday with some eager readers at the Easter Seals Center

Most of the reading professional football players do during the work week centers around X's and O's. On Tuesday, however, at least four Tampa Bay Buccaneer players had other reading materials in their big hands, books with titles like The Big Red Barn and Rainbow Fish. There was also Hugs & Kisses, Where Does the Brown Bear Go, Caps for Sale, Miss Spider's Tea Party, Little Bird House and, for good measure, the classic There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.

Yes, football players also read for entertainment, but that particular selection may be a little below the usual reading level of FB Darien Barnes, QB Brad Johnson, RB Michael Pittman and C John Wade. Given that this Buc quartet was reading to an audience of children between the ages of one and five, however, it makes perfect sense.

These Buccaneers were participating in the Easter Seals' annual "Reading and Rocking" program, which is designed to promote literacy and a love of reading among the children at the Easter Seals Center.

"Our classrooms are based upon what the students needs are and reading is an important element of that," said Easter Seals Executive Director Grace Armstrong. "Easter Seals is about redefining hope for children and their families."

Easter Seals has been helping individuals with disabilities and special needs, and their families, to live better lives for more than 80 years. Easter Seals offers a variety of services to help people with disabilities address life's challenges, improve physical mobility, return to work or simply gain greater independence for everyday living.

"I think you set a foundation for reading at an early age," said Johnson. "Whether it's learning your ABC's or learning how to count to ten or if it's just enjoying reading you set that foundation at an early age that you carry for a lifetime."

The Buccaneers helped set that foundation as the players split up and read to children in different age groups.

Wade, who was accompanied by his wife Natalie, was a big hit with the youngest students because he punctuated his reading with a series of high fives. He and Natalie then moved on to an older group and performed There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. While John read the story, Natalie acted out the part of the old woman with a puppet on her hand. As Natalie's puppet ate the fly, spider, bird, cat, dog, cow and horse along with the character in the book, the students responded with a series of "Eeewwws!" and "That's gross!"

Johnson's class listened intently to the books he read, and the Buc quarterback had the students identify the pictures in the stories. Johnson also had a special fan in one little man who kept saying, "Football, football" as he tried to tackle the table.

Pittman had the undivided attention of his class as he read from crowd favorites If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Farmer McFee. The students crowded around Pittman, who sat on the floor to read, and stared intently at the pictures as the running back read the stories.

Barnes probably had the rowdiest bunch of students, which was by his own design. The animated fullback stomped around and shouted the lines to the books Rainbow Fish and Caps For Sale. The students participated fully, joining Barnes in shouting the words, which they already knew by heart. Barnes' show came to a rousing conclusion when the whole group sang a rendition of "Hi-Ho the Dairy-O."

Before the Buccaneer players left, the students performed a montage of such dances as The Chicken Dance, The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes for the players. The players were impressed with the performance, and Johnson cheered loudly.

"I had a great time," he said. "This was awesome. I wish I had brought my kids out here to see these guys. It brings a smile to your face and I'm really excited that I came out."

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