Normally, when you’re an adult walking the halls of an elementary school, you are quite literally head and shoulders (and then some) above most of the students. However, today the halls of Memorial Elementary school had the entire Valparaiso High school football team streaming down in a river of white and green. Today was the day that the kids at Memorial got to meet their high school pen pals for the first time.
“Each of the students have written two letters over a month and a half,” said Angie Coyle, 2nd Grade Teacher at Memorial Elementary. “We send pictures and candy with each of the letters back and forth, and the players bring a shirt with them for the children. If the children wear that, they can go to a football game for free.”
The pen pal program has been going on for five years and is the brain child of Dave Coyle, head coach of the Valparaiso Vikings High School football team. “The pen pal program has been going on as long as I have been head coach, so since 2012. It was a run-off from the old coach and his wife who were teachers. We used to go read to the kids. So, we took it to the next level and 2nd and 3rd graders had to start to write letters as part of their school standards.”
The players met up with their miniature counterparts in the classrooms, where they signed the shirts of the kids. The kids in Mrs. Coyle’s class had memorized a very cute little Halloween poem and recited it in unison to the enraptured high schoolers.
Afterwards, they all headed out to the brand-new playground to play with their pen pals. Some tossed a ball back and forth, some played tag. Some just sat on the swings and talked to each other. It’s quite a site to see half-a-dozen high school football players and the same number of 3rd graders pile onto a merry-go-round.
Jon Hruska was one of the players who met his pen pal, a shy but delightful little girl named Avangeline Huttinger. “It’s a good way for us to get involved with the community and helps us as a team to build character,” Jon said while signing the t-shirt of Avangeline. “It was fun! We sent two letters, and he even told me how old he was,” she said.
“They’re heroes in a way to these kids, and I think it’s cool that we still have that opportunity,” said Coach Coyle. That was clearly evident with the laughter that filled the playground and on the smiles of the children and players alike.