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Kids listen, laugh with Ahlers and Pirates

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East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers reads a book to students inside of the gymnasium at the Chicod School on Friday.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Holton Ahlers was surrounded by familiar faces and young, fixated eyes on Friday morning at Chicod School.

Most of the players on the East Carolina football roster were out at schools reading to youngsters as part of the Read Across America event. Other local celebrities also participated, including N.C. Rep. Kandie Smith, who read to children in Bethel and Sheriff Paula Dance, Farmville Police Chief Donnie Green, Author Sheila Turnage and Sen. Don Davis at Sugg-Bundy in Farmville.

The National Education Association-sponsored event, which began March 2, 1998, is an annual reading emphasis celebrated on the birthday of beloved children's author Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss.

For Ahlers, the event meant a visit to the classrooms and hallways he roamed for his elementary and middle school years.

“I was that little kid once and literally came to Chicod and I remember reading day and Dr. Seuss day and dressing up,” said Ahlers, who after leaving Chicod went on to star at D.H. Conley High School and then he emerged as the Pirates’ starting quarterback about halfway through his freshman season in 2018.

“It was cool to come back,” he said. “I had many of the same teachers and got to see everyone. It was really cool.”

In all, the Pirates had football coaches and 85 players participate in the event, spanning 10 nearby schools.

“I think our student-athletes had a powerful impact in the community today,” ECU athletics community service liaison Danielle Morrin said.

Chicod media coordinator Angie Miller said it was neat to see the football players quickly embrace their role. It was especially meaningful to see Ahlers.

“It felt very normal see his face in the building,” said Miller, who is in her 17th year at Chicod. “It was the same way for his three brothers when any of them stop by. … It was great to see Holton and how he has grown from a little 5-year-old, and I think it’s great when he comes back because he is an inspiration to the kids.

“They were all very particular about which book they wanted to pick out and read,” she said. “It’s just a really neat thing.”

Beyond reading, the Pirates answered a wide range of questions from the school children and offered plenty of high-fives. Ahlers was asked how many players he tackles during a game — he laughed and politely said that he plays offense and doesn’t usually make tackles — and some of the children were amazed when Ahlers said he is 19 years old and stands 6-foot-4.

Defensive lineman Dorian Hardy even ran a race versus a student.

ECU’s Josh Armwood read an interactive book about animals to a kindergarten class filled with eager students who joined him in sounding out the animal noises as they progressed through the pages.

“I didn’t know how much we would be reading, but once I got down and situated, it was pretty neat,” Armwood said.

Ahlers’ reading session began in the gym, where his former coach Daniel Hall is still the school’s gym teacher. Chicod’s colors also are purple and gold, which was fitting for Friday’s event.

“This brought back a lot of memories, but the buildings are not the same at all,” Ahlers said. “I remember when we were in class and if we were being too loud or something then the teacher would yell purple and we would yell back gold. Seeing that again in the library this morning was pretty cool.”

More local events are planned today in celebration of Read Across America. They include:

■ Sheppard Memorial Library, 530 Evans St., 10:30-11:30 a.m. in the children's program room. Dr. Seuss stories will be read; and participants are invited to come dressed in Dr. Seuss-inspired attire.

■ Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 3040 Evans St., 11 a.m. Dr. Seuss' Birthday Storytime will include books, games and activities.

Daily Reflector reporter Kim Grizzard contributed to this story.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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