Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Parkview wrestler Jordan Matlack listens as Lily Darr reads a book during class at Camp Creek Elementary School. The wrestling team works with the second grade students to help them read.
LILBURN -- Peering up from her book, 7-year-old Lily Darr smiles at Jordan Matlack, 17.
Matlack's gray, hooded sweatshirt is darkened with winter rain. It was a soggy jog from the high school.
The duo swaps stories. They share laughs. They ask each other questions. Matlack likes to stress the importance of being an apt reader. "It's a foundation for the future," he tells Darr.
He's preaching to the choir.
"Did you read as much as I did when you were a kid?" Darr asks, arching an eyebrow. "Were you good at reading?"
Matlack laughs. "Not as good as you."
He listened intently on a recent afternoon as the little girl breezed through "If you Give a Cat a Cupcake," a children's book that students are studying in Adria Daniels' second-grade class.
Like other wrestlers from Parkview, Matlack treks twice a month over to Camp Creek Elementary and pairs up with a second-grade student. They study a book together. Then they fill out a worksheet, detailing about what they learned.
It's a mutually beneficial relationship, Daniels said.
"It gives the younger student and the older student a community connection, a kinship" she said. The Book Buddies program is a partnership between her class and the Parkview wrestlers.
Parkview wrestling coach Josh Porter played a key role in getting the initiative started.
"I wanted to get these guys involved in the community," Porter said. "I know some kids really struggle with reading, but if they see older kids that seem to enjoy reading then that gives the younger kids some encouragement."
Seven-year-old Nathaniel Wasihun said it is indeed an encouraging endeavor.
"It's a lot of fun getting to read with the wrestlers," Wasihun said. "It makes reading more fun than before."
His book buddy, Jordan Brooks, said it's fun for him too. The 17-year-old wrestler said he enjoys "helping (Wasihun) progress and being a part of that process. We help each other too. He sees what I do. I see what he does, and we put that together. It's an interesting learning experience."
Porter can see where the wrestler is coming from. As a former elementary school teacher, he understands how big of a deal it is for the kids.
"It's huge for them," Porter explained. "They see these guys that are big and tall, and they're taking time out of their day to get to know them. They probably think it's the greatest thing in the world. I know my students are sure enjoying it."
Matlack can attest to that. He applauded as 7-year-old Darr finished reading her book.
"She's pretty good at this," he said. "I wish I had something like this when I was her age. It's something I would have definitely appreciated. It's a great idea."