By Joanna Armandi
CS&T Sports Editor
WEST CHESTER – Spring training is a little over a month away, but Phillies fever has spread early at St. Maximilian Kolbe School in West Chester thanks to eighth-grader Bernadette Tankle.
Tankle, 14, had the winning essay in the “I Pitch for Dairy” contest sponsored by the Phillies, the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association and the Pennsylvania Dairy Promotion Program. And the grand prize? A visit from world champion pitcher Cole Hamels, who promotes the dairy campaign, which challenges local children to have three servings of dairy per day and collect caps from milk bottles and jugs. The students at St. Max collected about 2,000 caps.
Tankle said when she got the call a couple weeks ago from St. Maximilian’s gym teacher, Mary Ann Keenan, who helped her enter the contest, she was shocked. “I didn’t believe it,” she said, and neither did her classmates. But when they made the announcement at school, “They were really excited and supportive,” she said.
The excitement continued until Hamels’ visit Jan. 11. Students in pre-K through eighth grade broke out their Phillies gear and made signs to welcome the all-star pitcher. Phillies Ball Girls mingled with the students as music played to pump up the anxious crowd in St. Max’s gym.
Phillies broadcaster Tom McCarthy emceed the event and first welcomed dietician Althea Zanecosky, who spoke to the students about the importance of eating dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt.
After the students’ nutrition lesson, Hamels was introduced and the packed gym erupted in hoots, hollers and applause. Hamels compared the noise level to that of a Phillies game and encouraged the kids to drink milk to prevent broken bones.
Tankle was able to ask him a few questions in front of the student body and her parents, Joe and Karen, who also attended the assembly. She first asked about his eating habits, specifically how dairy helps him perform as an athlete. Hamels said his parents helped him form good eating habits, and he makes sure to drink milk with breakfast and eat yogurt often.
When asked whether he prefers “white” or chocolate milk, Hamels said he sticks to the basics. “It was really cold during the World Series, and I thought I’d drink some hot chocolate to stay warm. I took two sips … And it was too sweet. Now I just drink regular milk. That’s good enough for me,” he said.
Hamels touched on his career so far as a pitcher, and how he stays focused. “It’s tough,” he said. “It’s something that takes practice.” Tankle’s final question asked advice on how to be a good student. Hamels’ answer was simple, “Take advantage of the opportunities you have … and work as hard as you possibly can.”
Hamels’ visit definitely energized the 393 students at St. Max, said Anita Dixon, who is in her fifth year as principal. “Everybody is a Phillies fan here,” she said. “During the regular season, we always pray for the Phillies, and during the World Series we have Phillies Days. Our gym teacher, Mrs. Keenan, gets the children really excited about them.”
Hamels’ visit was a joy, she said. “We knew it was a long shot, but Bernadette was very interested in writing. She’s an excellent student,” Dixon added.
Tankle, who has an older brother and sister, thought the contest was perfect for her because she drinks so much milk, and although she wrote the essay alone, she attributes the win as a group effort. “The school inspires me to do my best,” she said.
Dixon noted that good nutrition is taught from pre-K to eighth grade at St. Max, just in different ways. “We teach the children throughout their time here that their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” she said, and also noted that St. Max is a member of the National School Lunch Program, which has strict nutrition requirements.
She explained that the school does not sell candy or cookies as snacks, and that when the students have a party to celebrate a birthday or holiday, there are always healthy snacks available.
“We have many athletes here … And we put great emphasis on eating well and taking care of our bodies,” she said.
Winning essay by Bernadette Tankle
While Phillies fever is heating up the city, we at Saint Maximilian Kolbe School are pitching for Phillies flavor.
“Would you like one, Bernadette?” asked my classmate as she offered me a bottle of a well-known energy drink at the lunch table. “These drinks give you energy, and we need all the energy we can get before we take Mrs. Truitt’s science test. See, it says so right here on the bottle.”
“No thanks,” I sighed. “I’ve already learned my lesson.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” I laughed, “You know my mom believes that milk and water are the only drinks ever invented. Milk is all we have in our house. Take a look at the ingredients on that bottle of energy drink you have.”
“Wow, this has lots of sugar and calories.”
“Not to mention look at the caffeine content.” I took my milk from my lunch box.
“Now check this out. Mine says ‘Grade A lowfat milk, 400 i.u. Vitamin D3, and 2000 i.u. Vitamin A,” I read aloud.
“Yep, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but those vitamins and nutrients give you all the energy you need.”
It builds strong lean muscle, makes your bones strong, and keeps your eyes bright. It helps your brain function too, even for Mrs. Truitt’s science test.”
“Bernadette, you’re drinking vitamins and you’re turning into your mom,” she sighed.
“I know! A few years back I begged my mom to pack me an energy drink in my lunch. Well she did and I spent the whole day on sugar highs, sugar lows, and everything in between. My head ached and my attention span… well I don’t really remember.”
“But Bernadette, you are always so alert and have so much energy in class.”
“Kim, if you want to be a good student with a clear head, and a strong athlete with lean muscle, you have to test your mom’s theories,” I laughed. Kim looked at her drink disgusted.
“I have an extra milk in my bag. Want it?”
“And what do you say we go and ace Mrs. Truitt’s science test?”
If we at St. Maximilian Kolbe continue to pitch for dairy, we will be our own world champions, just like Cole Hamels and our fightin’ Phils!