Jason Varitek challenges kids to become world champion readers

Red Sox star catcher Jason Varitek teamed up May 6 with Verizon, the Massachusetts Teachers Association and thousands of public school teachers across the state to encourage K-8 students to be World Champion Readers by giving them the chance to read their way to Fenway this summer.
"I really believe in the power of reading," said Varitek. "I know that the more kids read, the better they do in school. I have two girls, ages 3 and 5, and I read to them every day."

A reception prior to the May 6 Red Sox game kicked off the annual drive to encourage youngsters to read this summer and earn the chance for free tickets to an August Red Sox game.  In addition, 5,000 Jason Varitek literacy champion posters will be given out at the game.

The poster features Varitek with the Red Sox World Series trophy, reading the World Champion edition of Zachary's Ball. The book, by Massachusetts author/illustrator Matt Taveres, revolves around Zachary's first visit to Fenway Park. When his father catches a foul ball and gives it to Zachary, he suddenly finds himself on the pitcher's mound, wearing a Red Sox uniform and, as long as he has the ball, all his baseball dreams come true, including winning the World Series.

Seven hundred thousand contest entry forms and 20,000 Jason Varitek Verizon Literacy Champion posters featuring the MTA/Red Sox Reading Game will be delivered statewide to MTA K-8 schools in May.  The contest is open to all K-8 students.  Children who read nine books, one for each position on the ball field, will be eligible to win free tickets to an August Red Sox Game at Fenway Park.

The summer reading contest is part of a broader MTA literacy initiative called Reading Matters.  Verizon funds the program with a $75,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation as part of its national Verizon Reads campaign to promote literacy and be America's literacy champion.  Verizon has supported this summer reading campaign for six years because educators consider summer reading very important in developing life-long reading habits, in maintaining literacy skills and in promoting reading for pleasure. Studies have repeatedly shown that children who continue to read during the summer months perform better when school resumes in the fall.

"In the four years since the contest started, students across Massachusetts pledged to read more than 1 million books as a direct result of the Verizon Literacy Champion campaign," said MTA President Catherine Boudreau.  "Reading opens the door to achievement, and the involvement of sports figures like Jason Varitek is crucial to making the joy of reading an integral part of every child's life."

Verizon Region President Donna Cupelo said, "Reading is a critical skill and the key to success for our children.  That's why Verizon is committed to being America's literacy champion and making a difference in the lives of millions of families.  We're pleased that Jason Varitek is helping us hit home the literacy message."

In addition to the funding from the Verizon Foundation, the contest receives contributions from The Boston Globe, Staples, Saturn, Borders, and New England Cable News.  This summer, 100 students and their teachers will each win tickets to Fenway Park.  In addition, the contest will award $5,000 worth of gift certificates for school supplies and books.

To learn more about the reading contest, visit www.readingmatters.org, which focuses on the teaching and learning of reading, along with ways to help parents, teachers, and communities raise successful readers.