OGDEN -- Emilio Guzman carefully cradled his signed Raptors baseball as he sat on the floor of one of Odyssey's second grade classrooms Friday morning. His name was drawn out of a hat to win the ball.
Guzman is one of hundreds of students in the Ogden School District that got a first-hand look into the world of baseball -- some by attending their first Raptors baseball game Friday night and others who met some of the players Friday morning when they visited their schools.
The Ogden School Foundation and the Ogden Raptors have been sponsoring a Raptors' night for students for three years now, but this is the second year that the Foundation has made the event into a major fundraiser to benefit students in the district.
Foundation board members Derick Wright and Dave Dunn went to work last year to attract corporate sponsorships and raise approximately $30,000 for students. The repeated the actions this year.
Wright said the event serves several purposes. First, to give some students who might not get the chance otherwise to attend a baseball game, and second, to give local businesses a chance to donate to the Ogden School District and get a some good publicity at the same time.
A pair of players visited schools Friday morning to talk to the students about the importance of school and how it impacted their lives. As the players entered the Odyssey classroom to oohs and aaahs by the students, all eyes were on the pair as they offered words of encouragement.
"I can remember being in the same seats as you guys," said Raptors' outfielder Hank Yates, who encouraged the students to enjoy school and to build lasting friendships.
Catcher Dimitri Papantonopoulos told the students that his interest in baseball kept him in school, but the benefits of staying in school changed his life. The athletes then showed the students different ways to throw a baseball and some held up their hands to practice in the air. Many students had questions or stories to share with the players.
Seven-year-old William Penn was enamored with the players and has several questions. He said he had played on a Raptors' little league team.
"I like how they told us to get an education and stay in school," he said proudly.
Penn planned to attend the game with his family. Students clapped and cheered when asked if they would be going to the game that night as well.
Wright said a new element has been added to the one-day event this year. Because September is National School Attendance Month, students who had perfect attendance last year got special seats, a foam finger and a free pretzel for their efforts in school.
Mayor Mike Caldwell also planned to read a decree honoring the students during the game.
Foundation Director Janis Vause likes the idea of honoring the students for their attendance. "Absenteeism can be a real problem. This encourages these students to be in class," Vause said.
Vause said she thinks they will have raised at least $30,000 from the corporate sponsorships. That money will go right into the children's classrooms by way of grants the teachers write to the foundation.
One corporate sponsor, Val Iverson, said he is always on board to help children in the community.
"I want to do anything I can for kids. Everybody wants to see these kids do well," he added.
His wife is a retired school teacher and so he knows how much the students need.