READING, PA- During an after-school session Friday with youngsters at Olivet Boys & Girls Club in Reading, a half-dozen members of Reading High’s state champion basketball team were asked the secret to their success.

“Hard work,” responded point guard Alim Tarawally. “Hard work and teamwork.”

The response underscored a theme of “Kids And Health,” a seven-week program aimed at developing good physical and mental practices in youngsters 6 to 8 years old.

Lizette Morales, Dakota Levan and Elizabeth Rojas, students at Reading Muhlenberg Career & Technology Center, developed the community service program as part of the SkillsUSA chapter at the school.

Topics covered in the program, held Fridays at Olivet’s Mulberry Street facility, ranged from oral hygiene and nutrition to bullying and sportsmanship.

“We’re mentoring children at an age when it’s crucial they learn the importance of being physically and mentally healthy,” said Morales, 16, who’s in the dental hygiene program at the vo-tech school.

Lisa Hughes, adviser to the SkillsUSA club, said plans are to work with the club to have similar programs every year.

“Kids And Health,” Hughes said, is being entered in a SkillsUSA state championship competition April 19-21 in Hershey.

Francis Camara, director, said the program has been a huge benefit to kids from the inner city neighborhood that surrounds the club.

“Learning hygiene and cleanliness at their age is very important,” said Camara, 26, a Reading High grad who went to Holy Cross University on a football scholarship. “It teaches respect for themselves and others.”

During a classroom session where the Red Knights talked of sportsmanship and fair play, 20 or so youngsters recited a pledge.

“I promise to play fair, follow all the rules, congratulate all players and respect my opponents,” they said in unison.

Rojas, 16, who’s studying cosmetology, said she’s created a bond with the youngsters in the program.

“It makes you feel like you’re making an impact,” said Rojas, who lectured on skin care in a previous session.

Levan, 17, a nursing student who discussed nutrition at one of the sessions, believes the program is good for Reading.

“I hope it will prove to everyone that Reading is not a bad city,” she said.

After the classroom session, the Red Knights showed the kids a few of the moves that earned them the title of No. 1 in Pennsylvania.

After some stretching exercises and jumping jacks, the kids got in some shooting time under the watchful eyes of the state champs.

Seven-year-old Anthony Williams, all of 3 feet tall, demonstrated some fancy between-the-legs dribbling before sinking a layup. Perhaps in a few years, Anthony will sport a fancy red-and-black warm-up suit like the ones the Red Knights wear.

In addition to Tarawally, other players participating included Jordan Pollard, Hector “RJ” Dixon, A.J. Norfleet, Jahmere Evans and Adrian Jones.

Camara, a former Red Knights cager, said the importance of mentors like the Reading High players cannot be overstated.

“The kids,” he said, “really look up to the players.”

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