The Arkansas Athletic Department is very proud of its work in the community and of the more the 2,500 man hours provided during the 2008-09 academic year. One of the Razorbacks’ most successful programs over the years has been the Book Hogs – Read to Win initiative which encourages students at the elementary school level to read.
Each February, students are challenged to read an additional 360 minutes during the month. Razorback student-athletes spend time visiting each of the nine elementary schools in Fayetteville in an effort to highlight the program. Every student that reaches the 360-minute mark by the end of the month has their name placed in a drawing with one grand-prize winner from each school receiving three tickets to a Razorback baseball game where they are escorted on to the field to be announced in front of the crowd and have their picture taken with head baseball coach Dave Van Horn. In addition, the class as each school which compiles the most minutes read is invited to Bud Walton Arena for a pizza party with several Razorback student-athletes.
Rodger Hunter, Student Life Coordinator for the Razorback Athletic Department has been with the program since its inception in 2002 and indicated that shortly after it started, student reading at the elementary schools jumped dramatically, in some cases nearly 30 percent.
“It starts in January when we go to each local elementary school and have a pep rally,” Hunter said. “We stand in front of the kids and every school brings them into the cafeteria. We bring two to four student-athletes to each school and take a microphone and introduce ourselves and then the student-athletes will discuss the importance of reading, how significant it is to learn how to read and how it broadens your vocabulary. How important reading is and how it got him or her to the University of Arkansas.
“I thought that it was a great idea when it was brought to me to engage the student-athletes. We didn’t want to just go to the school and sign autographs. It is there to encourage the kids to read and get them involved.”
Each student that participates in the Book Hog program starts with a “playbook” which outlines the agenda for each student and what it takes to be a winner. Included in the playbook is a calendar where students can write in the number of minutes read each day with a parent or guardian’s signature confirming the time. At the end of February, students return their playbook to their teacher who then tallies the minutes read and confirms individual winners and calculates the number of minutes read by the entire class for the chance at the pizza lunch.
While the students enjoy the Book Hog program, there is also excitement among teachers and staff when Razorback student-athletes arrive at schools. Former Razorback baseball player Ben Tschepikow and current farm hand with the Kansas City Royals is a graduate of Happy Hollow Elementary School and was consistently asked to make a return appearance at his alma mater.
Former Razorback track athlete Nkosinza Balumbu was always a hit at Asbell Elementary School. Hunter recalls the numerous instances where Balumbu would ask a question of the full cafeteria and after getting a correct answer would hand that student one of the medals he won at the Southeastern Conference Championships bringing smiles to the faces of those near him.
In 2008 Book Hogs had a huge following among students at the nine Fayetteville elementary schools, but that wasn’t always the case. In the infancy of the program several former Razorbacks worked vigorously to see the program succeed and make it what it is today.
“It started with Jeb Huckaba, Ahmad Carroll and James Johnson, those guys were some that pioneered it,” Hunter said. “Lerinezo Robinson was one that started with us. The participation with the student-athletes has always been good. Matt Jones, Blake Eddins, Andrew Dahl, Chad Faucette, Josh Melton, Caleb Miller, Shawn Andrews, Ken Hamlin, George Wilson, De’Arrius Howard, were all big time.”
The Book Hog program has been a benefit to many students in Fayetteville over the years, but it is also a learning experience for the student-athletes involved in the program. Razorbacks that participate must quickly learn how to speak to large groups, sometimes 500-600 at a time, speak into a microphone and interact with a crowd. Those skills as well as others can be carried to the student-athlete’s next profession whether it be in a press conference as a professional athlete or in a board room pitching the next big idea.