BY JOSH COHEN, OrlandoMagic.com
ORLANDO – The louder and more spirited the crowd, the more energized the home team typically plays, and the harder it usually is for the opponent to get into an effective rhythm. The Orlando Magic, with that in mind, expect to feed off the fans’ energy and passion this season at Amway Center.
If the noise and excitement is anything like it was on Oct. 23 during the Magic’s annual “Pick, Read & Roll” event, where over 4,000 Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) fourth graders packed into the arena’s lower bowl to hear from others, including Magic players, about the importance of reading, Amway Center is going to be an extremely tough place for road teams to play at this year.
Although the vibes matched that of a pep rally in anticipation for the start of the regular season, the message was clear: There are numerous gains made from reading, and kids who do read often will have far more success in and out of the classroom.
“It seems like it gets bigger and bigger every year,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “The good news about that is that means students are achieving levels to be able to get rewarded to come to Pick, Read, and Roll. It’s really rewarding for us to see the crowds grow. The fact that the children are doing really well in their reading activities, it helps us meet our goal of trying to improve the lives of at-risk children throughout Central Florida.”
During the event, Magic players answered reading-related questions such as books they have read or are currently reading, and how reading helps them get ready for games. For Jalen Suggs, now in his third season with Orlando after getting selected fifth overall in the 2021 NBA Draft, reading clears his mind and helps him stay focused on the present moment.
“For me, it just puts me in a good mind space,” he said. “I think when you read, you can’t be thinking about other things, really doing other things. You have to be present with it…Lock myself in.”
Among the many benefits of reading include mental stimulation for the brain, knowledge-enhancement, vocabulary expansion, and greater focus and concentration, according to LifeHack, a web site dedicated to empowering people to live with intentionality and purpose.
Although just a rookie, Jett Howard is already going above and beyond in the community. Being a positive role model to youth is something that means a great deal to him, and Monday’s event was another opportunity for him to inspire them with both his words and actions.
“It means everything – just (to) see a guy that (they can) kind of relate to and be around them and (share) their energy, and realize that they are humans, too, and not just super big people thrown onto pedestals,” he said. “That means a lot. As a kid, that’s all I wanted – to be around NBA players and just talk to them. As much I can do that (with kids now), I will.”
After the first time the Magic and OCPS held this event in 2019, students at the participating schools achieved a 30 percent increase in their reading scores compared to students at similar schools that did not participate. This also surpassed the average increase of all other schools.
In addition to all the attending fourth graders, approximately 150 of the most improved readers from these schools were recognized during the event for their achievements. The program acknowledges the growth and improvements of each student’s reading skills over the course of the 2022-23 school year. The fourth-grade students in attendance cheered on the fifth graders while being inspired to work hard to achieve their own reading success.
The Magic’s Pick, Read & Roll adds another dimension to community outreach for an organization that’s dedicated to giving back to Central Florida. On an annual basis, the Magic give more than $2 million to the local community by way of sponsorships of events, donated tickets, autographed merchandise and grants and the team’s community relations programs impact an estimated 100,000 kids each year.
“Reading is such a critical skill, and with so many distractions that they have, to hear from somebody that they truly admire, (and) in some cases idolize, means the world and a true push in an area that we need more kids excelling,” OCPS Superintendent Dr. Maria Vazquez said.