LINWOOD, N.J. -- Hundreds of students dressed in red and white were met by a big, green visitor Thursday afternoon at Seaview Elementary School.
The Phillie Phanatic was greeted with cheers and danced with students as part of a Phillies pep rally at the school. The celebration was to honor third-grader Ethan Levine, who won the New Jersey Education Association's "Educators who inspire me" essay contest with a submission about his language arts teacher, Tracey Meister.
Levine and Meister were both recognized at the pep rally, which also featured Phillies ballgirls and gift bags for each student.
"It was amazing being cheered on like that," said Levine, a Phillies fan and baseball player himself.
Levine's essay was picked as the best among hundreds of entries. He called Meister "the nicest teacher" and added that she always encouraged him to be a good writer.
"As an educator, it's such an honor because your goal is to get kids to learn, do their best, excel, and Ethan encompasses all of those things," Meister said. "He's such a good kid. He's a hard worker, determined, and he doesn't settle."
Both Levine and Meister were given customized Phillies jerseys with their last names on them, and the pair will be recognized again on Sept. 8 when the Phillies host the Braves on NJEA Day at Citizens Bank Park.
While Levine and Meister got personal jerseys, many other students and teachers had Phillies gear of their own at the school in southern New Jersey. Seaview Elementary principal Susan Speirs, who was wearing a red Phillies shirt, said they found out about the pep rally a few weeks ago, and Thursday had been circled on the calendar ever since.
"The momentum had been building for days," Speirs said. "We couldn't wait for the moment to arrive."
Speirs noted that she was not surprised one of Meister's students won the contest and called her a "fabulous writing teacher."
The principal also said she was proud of Levine for his accomplishment, as was his mother, Alyson Levine. Alyson said one of the parts of the essay that stood out to her the most was the fact it was not a mandatory assignment, but rather for extra credit.
"It was an extra assignment. I saw it in his backpack one day, and he didn't have to do it, but he still wanted to," Alyson said. "At this age, for a teacher to be able to inspire a student like that is incredible."
On her way back to her classroom from the pep rally, Meister was on the receiving end of many shoutouts and high-fives in the hallway. Though the Phanatic stayed only an hour in the school's cafeteria, she said she thinks Thursday will be a day students will remember for a long time.
"This allows them to set goals, and it shows with effort, it could be them one day who is receiving the cheers," Meister said.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com.