Witt, Royals become 'Classroom Champions' for Kansas City

May 23rd, 2024
Credit: Jason Hanna/Royals

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When walked into Kellee Ransom’s second-grade classroom at Ingels Elementary School on Tuesday, students went from going through a normal school day to meeting a baseball superstar and one of their heroes.

Shy at first, the group of students quickly opened up when Ransom asked if any of them had questions for Witt.

His favorite color? Blue, of course, but also red for the Royals’ NFL neighbors, the Kansas City Chiefs. Witt’s favorite number? No. 7, obviously. Favorite Royals teammate? Witt said the entire clubhouse is “like a family to him,” but also mentioned how great it is to play with Salvador Perez every day.

Witt and the students shared their favorite books, too, because reading is the whole reason Witt was there on Tuesday.

As part of Royals Literacy League, Royals players have been paired up with classrooms around Kansas City as “Classroom Champions,” encouraging students to keep reading and learning, even with summer break right around the corner.

“It’s special,” Witt said. “You know, that was me as a little kid looking up to players and wanting to meet them. It’s just exciting to be able to come in and see them, hear from them, whether it’s about baseball or whatever and being able to promote literacy, too. That’s really important.

“I have this platform, and I want to use it as much as I can to give back. Because Kansas City is home to me now.”

Credit: Jason Hanna/Royals

The Royals Literacy League was launched this year as a program designed to build excitement around literacy in Kansas City public schools. In partnership with the Sherman Family Foundation and SchoolSmartKC, the Royals are trying to fix a growing literacy problem in elementary schools around the city and the nation.

“The idea was that we know we’re having some real struggles with literacy in our city and the nation,” project lead Andrea Ellis said. “And they were thinking, ‘OK, what can we do to have an impact on it?’ What I thought was really wonderful is that they acknowledged really quickly that they’re the Royals and not educators. So we will bring to the table the assets that we have available to us, and we’ll partner with the educators who are the magic that do it.”

The pilot year of the program includes nine different public schools and 18 classrooms. Installed at each school, as well as at Kauffman Stadium and at the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy, is a Royals-inspired community library stocked with free books for students.

In addition, six Royals are "Classroom Champions." Witt, , , , and all have volunteered their time, at first sending videos to their classrooms and encouraging students throughout the school year.

Credit: Jason Hanna/Royals

They were finally able to visit in person over the past week.

“My wife was a first-grade teacher, so education and young kids are near to my heart,” Singer said. “Trying to make it better for them, too. Seeing how many young fans we have was really cool and just being able to go in person like that, get to know them and see how excited they are was awesome.”

“My grandmother was a librarian, so reading has been something that has been in my life my entire life,” Pasquantino added. “So this is an easy thing for me to get behind. … This is something that’s super important that we do to connect with people outside of playing games.”

Program feedback so far has been positive from teachers, and the Royals hope to see it grow in the coming years. The Royals provided Literacy League students with a blue composition notebook from their Classroom Champion and have seen anecdotal evidence of reading and writing improvement.

Credit: Jason Hanna/Royals

“It’s been really fascinating, partially because they’re being seen by someone other than their teacher or their parents, but somebody who they see on TV and kind of know their name,” Ellis said. “So there’s this magic that happens, which is what I think we thought would be the benefit of having these kinds of assets. We’ve seen, particularly in Kellee’s class, the students get better in some of their writing and reading.

“Now, that’s the magic of Kellee Ransom, but I think she’s been able to use this as a way to inspire them.”

This is Ransom’s 17th year in teaching, and she noted how proud she is to be one of the educators participating in the Literacy League. It’s been over a year in the making, and the Royals involved Ransom and other teachers in the process right from the start, asking for their advice and what they needed for help in the classroom.

“Oftentimes, folks come into our communities, our schools and say, ‘We’re going to tell you what you need to do,’” Ransom said. “And they very rarely ask the teachers, ‘How can we help?’ The Royals were asking those questions right away. They’ve shown they’re bigger than sports, that they care about the community and that they not only care about children moving forward, but also the teachers.

“When you’re partnered up, and when they’re leveraging the power of sport, beautiful things can happen.”