A sold-out crowd of 18,846 screaming and uplifting fans helped give the Orlando Magic the boost they needed to pull out their comeback home win over the Golden State Warriors Thursday.
Less than 24 hours later, a group of nearly 3,600 Orange County Public School fourth- and fifth-graders made the atmosphere at the Magic’s home arena feel similar.
Not because Jalen Suggs made game-winning plays. Or because of a Wendell Carter Jr. dunk.
But because of Friday’s event the Magic and OCPS hosted at Amway Center as part of their Pick, Read & Roll program, which incentivizes local kids to improve their reading skills.
“For us to be able to come out here and put smiles on kids’ faces and help them have a good time, that’s what it’s all about,” Suggs said.
“[The kids] were almost as loud as [Thursday] night when we were getting ready to walk out, which is crazy.”
Suggs and Carter were among Magic players who answered questions, shared their favorite books/magazines and participated in academic-related basketball activities.
The annual program, which is open to fourth-grade OCPS students, rewards those with the greatest reading improvements over the course of the 2021-22 school year.
“My biggest thing growing up — basketball was never a need-be or all,” Carter said. “It wasn’t like something that if it didn’t happen, I wasn’t going to be successful. My parents put me in a situation where I was going to be good regardless. Basketball can end for anybody any day, but when you got your mental, you got your smarts, you are very wise and intelligent, can’t nobody take that away from you. That’s really what I like to preach to kids — be able to study something or do something that nobody can take away from you.”
The Pick, Read and Roll program has made a tangible impact since being created in October 2018 and the following year’s inaugural event.
Since 2019, students at participating Title 1 schools had a 30% increase in their reading scores compared to students at Title 1 schools that didn’t participate, according to Orange County Public Schools.
“The kids look up to the players and anything that a player says, they hang on their every word,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “When a player can say, ‘it’s important to read’, ‘it’s important to have favorite books and favorite subjects,’ it sticks with children and it helps motivate them. Having the players involved is an important component of the program and it’s a real motivator for the children overall.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.