Students at Pasadena Park Elementary School received about 80 special visitors Thursday.
Athletes participating in today’s NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, stopped by the school to meet the kids and do a little running.
In Emily Lieb’s fourth-grade classroom, the women’s cross country team from the University of Minnesota Duluth talked to students about why they like to run and what it’s like to be a student-athlete.
“I was a huge soccer player,” said Allie Rudin, a junior majoring in marketing at the school.
The athletes talked about their majors, there were future teachers, doctors, writers, coaches and businesswomen. Pasadena kids asked them about their favorite sports, besides running, of course.
Eric Sawyer, president and chief executive officer of the Spokane Sports Commission, said this is the second year the NCAA Division II championships have come to Spokane. The first time was two years ago. This year’s roster includes 57 women’s teams and 56 men’s teams.
“We try with every event to expose athletes to younger kids,” Sawyer said.
The NCAA likes to connect with students as well.
“Having the cross country student-athletes go out and interact with a local elementary school helps to connect the students not only with the sport of cross country, but also allows them to interact with college students from across the country,” said Bridget Johnson Tetteh, Great Northwest Athletic Conference assistant commissioner.
The students were inspired.
“I think all of them were very beautiful,” said Sophia Chreiki, 9, a student in Lieb’s class who likes to play basketball. “I want the heart of an athlete like all of them.”
“I think they’re really cool,” said Ellie Engeland, 9, who likes to play soccer and softball. “I want to grow up to be just like them.”
After the athletes answered questions, they passed around posters the students could keep and signed autographs. There was a little bit of time left in Lieb’s class, so they played a spirited round of “Heads Up, Seven Up,” before heading outside to run around the playground.
Principal Robyn Davis said the experience was wonderful. Many teachers logged on to Google Maps and showed students where the athletes were from.
“The teachers have had as much fun as the kids,” Davis said.
Janelle Sordelet, a Parent Teacher Organization volunteer, said the students appreciated the visits because many of them also run in a club that meets after school. Thursday’s event brought out the runner in all of them.
“I have not seen this many kids running out here before,” Sordelet said.