A group of Rancho Cordova students are learning reading skills under a football theme at Riverview Elementary School.
RANCHO CORDOVA, CA - Long after the final bell sounds at Riverview Elementary, a group of students huddle each evening to participate in an unusual literacy program with a football theme.
Competing in a frenzy of fast-paced reading and speaking drills in a classroom, the students, which range from 7-13 years-old, are eager to interact with each other and a few volunteer coaches who mentor them as a team.
The group of students hail from up to six elementary schools and two middle schools in the Rancho Cordova area.
The program is run by The Playmakers, a group led by football coach Greg Roeszler, whose mission is simple: building character and establishing core values of accountability, commitment, teamwork and family.
The program begins in the classroom and then spill out to the football field. Each student in the program has a love of football and a dream to play in any capacity they can. The Playmakers allow them to be part of a team as they improve in the classroom - away from the regular school day.
"Our leverage is very simply these kids desperately want to play football," Roeszler said. "Because they want to play football, they're willing to come and put their homework on the wall. They're learning these character traits that we're teaching them all because they want to play football."
While all of the core values are noticeable during any visit to the Playmakers program, the sense of family is the most striking. Many of the students come from troubled homes without a father figure. Roeszler, known as "Coach Roz" has a vision to put a dad in every home.
To many of the 30 children currently involved in the Playmakers literacy program, Roeszler and the few volunteer coaches are the only father figure that any of these kids will know.
In fact, when the students and coaches break huddles in class and on the field, they end by all shouting "family."
"The kids are going back to Mom and talking about the values and character traits that we're teaching here and it's begun to move into the family unit," Roeszler said.
12-year-old Kenneth Robinson is one of the students in the program who dreams of playing wide receiver one day. He's improved his reading level dramatically in the short time he's participated in the program.
Robinson has enjoyed learning under the program even if he catches grief from his friends outside of it.
"They think its kind of lame, because they don't realize how important it is to read and how important it is to serve the community," Robinson said, who admitted none of his friends have yet to accept the invitation to join him after school with the Playmakers.
Through football, the students have taken a love to reading, as they've learned in order to compete on the field, you must have an education off the field. They have learned how complex and lengthy a football playbook can be from current and former NFL players who have spoken to the group.
Even as young children, Robinson and his teammates have learned that in order to be able to compete in football at the high school level, they will be required to meet a grade level expectation.
While the school year concludes in early June, the program will continue throughout the summer. The program will also increase by 50 students for a youth summer football program, creating other teams for competition.
For more information on the Playmakers program, visit ThePlaymakers.org
By Sean Cunningham, SCunningham@News10.net