As nine-year-old Andrew prepared for school on Wednesday, he donned warm up pants, a Princeton University Hockey t-shirt and a Princeton University Hockey jacket.
He couldn't wait until lunchtime.
For the third year in a row, Littlebrook Elementary School's third graders faced off in a friendly lunchtime floor hockey match against members of the Princeton University Hockey team. The game was the top prize for students who read more than 1,575 pages during the month of January.
Students were encouraged to read as many pages of age-appropriate books as possible, said third grade teacher Katie Federico. Students won prizes for reaching different levels of pages read, including a hockey pencil, wristband and hockey puck signed by the Princeton University Hockey team. By Wednesday, about three quarters of the class had reached the top goal: a game against the Princeton team.
"There are almost 60 kids in third grade and they all participated (in the reading program)," Federico said. "Some of them went to town. The kids who kind of need that extra motivation for reading, this just kicks it into high gear for them, some parents say their kids look forward to reading."
Bringing hockey players into their communities is the aim of non-profit Hockey Players for Kids, a program started by graduates of Princeton University and other Ivy League schools. Littlebrook participated in HP4K's Stick to Reading program.
Federico became involved in the program after she taught former Princeton Hockey Head Coach Guy Gadowsky's son.
In early January, Princeton Hockey players came into the third grade classrooms, read "Dino Hockey" to the kids and talked about how reading helped them when they were young.
In total, Littlebrook's third graders read 82,000 pages. According to the contest rules, all of the reading had to be done outside of school, Federico said.
This year, with some avid hockey players in the third grade, there was a lot of excitement about reaching the individual goal of 1,575 pages that allowed kids to play in the hockey game.
Jake, 8, is an avid hockey player but worried he might not be able to read enough pages before the challenge ended.
"All I read is Percy Jackson and it takes me three months to read a book," Jake said. "And then I started reading Geronimo Stilton and boom!"
Classmate Andrew, 9, remembers screaming and falling off his bed when he reached enough pages to play in the hockey game. He got to his goal by reading almost the entire My Weird School series, Red Zone and Geronimo Sullivan.
"I wanted to play a lot because I like hockey," Andrew said. "It's like heaven...creamy mac and cheese."
Both boys brought their hockey sticks to school so the Princeton players would sign them for good luck.
Third grader Theo doesn't play ice hockey but he likes to skate and really wanted to play in the Princeton University game. He earned his spot on the team by reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, among other books.
"They think of them as professional players," Federico said, adding that students from the school are also pen pals with Princeton University Lacrosse team members each year.
"Just having the university here as a resource is just fabulous and the people we work with are so willing to help," she said.