Former NFL player speaks to middle schoolers about the importance of reading

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SARASOTA - Reading is fundamental. That was a big ad campaign back in the 70's, but it still holds true today. One former NFL player from the Suncoast returned to hammer that point home to students at Booker Middle School.

Chris Hannon played quarterback at Riverview High School before catching passes in college and the NFL. Now he returns to Booker Middle School to help show those potential athletes that education must come first.

"My first message to them is you need to do well academically to pursue those goals, and in order to do so, you need to be able to read,” says assistant principal Derek Jenkins.

Hannon also acted as one of the celebrity judges for the monthly Chili Throwdown held at the middle school to help team-building amongst the teachers. But it is with the students that Hannon's presence makes the most difference. "It feels great because he'll tell us how it has been and what it takes to make it in the NFL," says student Tyrieke Blakeley.

Hannon knows that he has cache with the younger, aspiring athletes, and he uses that to help him get through to them. "First off is, I have the experience. I have been to where they want to go and where they want to be at. I played NCAA ball and in the NFL. That is where they want to go."

The middle school has been stepping up their interactive programs in the past few years, and Jenkins is living proof that it is not how you start, but where you finish. "I talk to them all the time about doing their best. And they can do it. I was in a remedial reading program myself in middle school and I know what hard work can do. It can get them out of the class, and open the doors they are looking for, in the end."

The celebrity reading, and judging of the Chili Showdown are just a couple of the innovations at Booker Middle. They also hold hat-and-jersey days for the staff and students, as well as student-staff game days to build school spirit.