When athletes from ’s soccer, basketball, football and baseball programs visited Tom Nucci’s fifth grade class at Thursday morning, they brought lessons with them for students to use both on and off the sports field.
Lisa Destephano, Quinn Paggi, Kelsey Napolitano, Allison Furuya, Tom Breslin, Lauren Sasso and Jessica Lopes make up one of Long Island’s many Student Athlete Leadership Teams (SALT) - a New York Mets / Sharp Electronics-sponsored program that aims to educate fifth grade students on topics ranging from sportsmanship and civility to the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Athletes Helping Athletes, a similar organization to SALT, also helped to train the high school students.
Mineola High School health teacher Denise Zunno has been an advisor in the SALT program, which has been in existence for about 25 years, and oversaw the day’s activities including video presentations, group projects and general discussion.
A current coach at the high school, Zunno has seen all kinds of athletes – gifted and otherwise – and numerous occasions where the less talented are excluded and ridiculed.
“These kids just want to be part of something and besides,” she said, “they won’t learn about the sport if they are not included.”
After Zunno and the SALT students shared their own personal experiences, they broke the topic down into sub-categories with assistance from popular film characters.
Joshua Jackson’s character of Charlie Conway from “The Mighty Ducks” was used displayed the importance of playing fair when he refused to feign injury at the command of coach Emilio Estevez. Benny Rodriguez from The Sandlot showed kindness when allowing a new player to participate despite the rest of the team’s protests. Finally, Jess from “Bend it Like Beckham” found out the hard way to use self-control even when others are not.
“The kids started out a little quiet,” Nucci said, “and this is not a quiet class!”
The film clips may have been a bit dated, but the timeless message inspired the previously demure class to life.
Nucci thought his students may have felt a little shy around the older students initially, but productive chatter filled the room after the athletes broke the children into small groups and worked on various scenarios that require sportsmanship.
By the time the students had the opportunity to ask the athletes general questions about high school, Zunno had a hard time prying the SALT crew away from the fifth graders’ curious clutches.
“Is it hard adjusting from middle school to high school?”, “what is the food like?” and “did you guys come in just to skip classes?” were some of the questions with which the athletes were peppered.
Zunno and her volunteers will re-visit Cross Street in the coming weeks to cover the drugs and alcohol portion of the SALT curriculum before the program culminates on “Super” Saturday, March 19.
From 9 am-1 pm that day at , Cross Street students will have the opportunity to eat, drink and play games while some special visitors may be in attendance.