It's not every day that the world champion Phillies' batting coach comes to your school. But when Milt Thompson arrived at the Bullock School in Glassboro yesterday, Donna Romalino's class of six second- and third-grade boys was ready.
Talk about seizing the (teachable) moment. The little guys clinched this one like Matt Stairs' eighth-inning pinch-hit homer during this year National League Championship Series.
On Monday, when the boys learned that Thompson was coming to visit, they got down to work.
They brainstormed on questions to ask him, which were then written on baseball-shaped paper. They wrote thank-yous for Thompson and coined baseball-inspired math problems for their classroom door. Yesterday, before he arrived, their teacher had them combing the sports pages for words and endings.
"These boys are real hard workers," Romalino told Thompson.
Thompson, no stranger to greatness, was impressed. "I'm proud," he told them.
Romalino's students know about rising to a task. Their class size is small to help rise them above their individual academic challenges; the average class size at Bullock is 21.
They also know about teamwork.
This fall, Bullock and two other Glassboro schools collected more than 700 pairs of sneakers to give poor children in Africa. Romalino gave the boys the task of figuring out how many shoes had been donated. Their solution - line the shoes up and down the school's long hallway and count.
Romalino's class was also given the weighty job of counting and tallying the votes in Bullock's mock presidential election last month.
"They do have challenges, and so do other kids," Romalino said. "It's a matter of finding that avenue to make them successful."
Romalino said she'd found success in tying learning to real-life experience, such as using sports statistics to teach math concepts. What better than baseball? "Take what they love, and teach from there."
And, fortunately for Romalino's class, they had an in. Thompson is dating an aunt of classmate Kahlin Wright, 7.
Thompson said he first made the offer to visit the class after the World Series win. He does community outreach and is working on creating his own youth motivation program, Better Than Average.
Bullock is big on character education. Appropriately enough, the December theme is perserverance. Thompson talked to them about the importance of education to reach their goals. He told them school might be hard sometimes, but so was success.
"Success is always going to be hard," he said. "You've got to work hard."
He showed them his autographed World Series bat and his second-place 1993 Series ring, and he told them that dreams come true if you work for them.
And then he came out with the cool stuff - baseballs he autographed and baseball cards. There was a chorus of "Yes!" when Thompson announced the gifts.
"It's better than Christmas," said principal Joe DePalma, a lifelong Phillies fan who also got a ball.
Tomas Ramos, 8, was happy with his loot, too. But he said he was especially taken with Thompson's thoughts on teamwork.
"Stay together with your teammates. You can work together," he said, noting, "We do teamwork."
Not surprisingly, the boys were happy to share their special guest with two other classes who happily pitched him questions.
His favorite color: Red.
Did he jump into the winners' heap after the Series win? "Too old."
The best thing that ever happened to him: The birth of his children, although, "this year was pretty exciting, winning the Series."
Before he left, Thompson promised to return when he gets his Series ring in April.
By then, it was nearly lunchtime. The boys had a busy afternoon on deck - writing a local soldier who is their pen pal, and writing about Thompson's visit for a book about baseball they're making.
"Can we have free time?" Tomas Ramos asked Romalino.
Her reply: "I think you've earned it."