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Ex-Spartan goes 'off and away' to promote reading

February 1, 2006
Former MSU and current Atlanta Falcons running back T.J. Duckett, left, and former NFL and University of Michigan player Tyrone Wheatley read "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss to a group of honor students at Brace Lederle K-8 School in Southfield on Tuesday afternoon. The two were there to promote the National Education Association's Read Across America program.

Southfield — "Congratulations. Today is your day. You're off to great places! You're off and away!" read Atlanta Falcons running back T.J. Duckett — chuckling as he stumbled through the rhymes and tongue-twisters of Dr. Seuss.

"Dr. Seuss has a lot of rhyming," the former MSU running back interjected. "It's a little tricky, so work with us."

A crowd of 150 students from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, topped in red and white stovepipe hats laughed, as Duckett, who donned his own Seuss hat, read the classic "Oh the Places You'll Go!" at Brace-Lederle K-8 School in Southfield, 18575 W. Nine Mile Road.

Duckett and Tyrone Wheatley, a former NFL and U-M football player, visited the school Tuesday to celebrate Dr. Seuss' March 2 birthday and promote the National Education Association's Read Across America project.

"This is awesome," Duckett said. "Just to be able to go out and talk to the kids and help them out. When you go to schools and you talk to people like that, it makes you excited."

The athletes, whose alma maters fiercely compete instate, put the rivalry aside to talk to the kids about reading. But it was obvious which school Duckett came from, because every moment he had, he yelled, "Go State, go State!"

The National Education Association partners up with more than 50 organizations, such as the NFL Players Association, to hold read-ins, like Tuesday's Seuss events, when the football players can excite the kids about books.

"There is nothing in this world you cannot do without reading," Wheatley said.

Several other Southfield schools had similar events gearing up for Super Bowl XL, to be held in Detroit this weekend. Brace-Lederle principal Michael Horn said he found out about the opportunity to have the guests less than a week ago.

"Both gentlemen were magnanimous in their speeches," he said. "They talked to our kids, not at our kids.

"They talked about real life things. They put education above the professional sport, and I think that is outstanding."

Duckett told stories of growing up in Kalamazoo, with two teacher parents, and he said he learned that the ability to read is essential in life.

"I've been involved with different types of reading things since back in high school. We used to go read to kindergartners," he said. "But I've been doing this for a long time. Education is so important."

While he is only back in his home state for a little while, Duckett, nicknamed "Diesel," said he is glad he can make the time to talk to people and give back.

For Wheatley, it was easy for him to relate to the students sitting in front of him.

"You don't want to give them a false sense of hope, but again, you can say, 'Hey I've been through the same thing,'" the Dearborn Heights native said. "I'm telling you, I lived down the street. I've done it, I've walked the same highways, I've been through the same situations, so I understand. People can identify."

After reading the book, the football icons made a deal with students. In the spirit of the rivalry between Duckett and Wheatley, Duckett challenged the students to a MSU vs. U-M reading competition, in which they have to read 200 books by March 2.

The winners will get Duckett and Wheatley jerseys, said Wheatley.

"It continues that rivalry that you usually see on the gridiron or on the basketball court, in the halls of education — so I think that's great," Horn said.

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