Freed-Hardeman University baseball players are taking a message about character to some of their youngest fans. The entire baseball team, approximately 40 players, is engaged in a program to deliver messages about right behavior to children. In groups of three or four, they visit classrooms at East Chester Elementary School with students in kindergarten through third grade.
The curriculum is being designed by baseball head coach Jonathan Estes, with help from his wife Ashley, a former elementary school teacher. This fall’s lessons deal with bullying. In September, the players talked about name-calling. They made a T chart of “put-ups” and “put-downs” and then read an age-appropriate book dealing with the topic.
In October, the team talked about being different. November sessions focused on “keeping our hands to ourselves,” Estes said. “We talked about not pushing or hitting, but we also talked about how we should react if someone does that to us.” This
Players typically visit the classroom one Wednesday each month. Five thirty-minute sessions are planned for this fall. Estes was giving the players one day off each week from practice; that day is now partially filled with the classroom visits.
Estes, a St. Louis native and Cardinal draftee, gives credit to the major league organization for the genesis of the idea. “The Cardinals have a program called ‘Stamp Out Smoking,’” he said. “Ashley thought these students were a little young for the anti-smoking message so I talked with East Chester principal Kim Scott, and we decided upon the anti-bullying message.”
At first, both players and students were hesitant around each other, according to Eric Tompkins, a junior pitcher from Chattanooga, said. “Children were apprehensive,” he said, “because there were big people in their classrooms. We were nervous, hoping not to mess up.”
Apprehensive soon gave way to enjoyment. Now, the baseball players love it, Tompkins said. “Later that day, the talk at practice is always about what happened that day and funny things that were said.”
“East Chester students and teachers seem to appreciate what we are doing,” Estes said.
“They’re making a difference,” East Chester principal Kim Scott said, noting the importance of good male role models for the children. “They are really making relationships.” In addition to the lessons they are teaching, the team assisted with the school’s fall festival. “They ran the jumpers, they knew the kids’ names, and they stayed past their time slot, with kids hanging all over them,” she said. Scott is particularly appreciative of the preparation the team puts into the sessions. “They don’t just read a book,” she said. “They teach a lesson.”
Estes gets immediate reaction from at least one kindergarten student. His son Dean attends East Chester. Asked who visited his class that day, Dean, already a dedicated Cardinal fan, answered, “Matt Holladay, Yadier Molina and David Freese.”
Told about Dean’s comments, Scott said, “It might as well have been, because that’s the way they seem to our students.”