SALT LAKE CITY — It was a very special afternoon at the Dual Immersion Academy (DIA), a bilingual elementary school located in the Glendale neighborhood of Salt Lake City. It was the final day of reading week which concluded with the theme of "Make reading your goal!"
Two of Real Salt Lake's newest players, Sebastian Velasquez and Enzo Martinez, visited with the kids to share their favorite books.
Just like the children at DIA, Enzo and Sebastian are bilingual, and they all agree that "soccer rules!"
Sitting patiently on the floor, the students, from kindergarten through eighth grade, eagerly awaited the visitors. They jumped, applauded and screamed as the players entered the gym with a ball in their hands and a book under their arm.
They decided that they would read, "Froggy plays football" (soccer) in Spanish.
"Head, foot, knee hit it, but never with their hands," they chanted in unison.
Velasquez recently scored a goal against the L.A. Galaxy, but on this afternoon, Sebastian and Enzo were starring in their role as role models and new hometown heroes for a group of 400, primarily Latino, kids.
Born in Medellin, Colombia, Velasquez moved to the United States at the age of 2. He studied international business in Spartanburg, S.C. Meanwhile, Martinez came to the United States at the age of 10 from his native Uruguay and studied communications at Chapel Hill, N.C.
Even though they played on different childhood teams in East Coast soccer clubs, the two have been close friends for the past 10 years.
Although not avid readers, both say they were influenced as children by the books they read. "The Adventures of Tornado and Sweep," a book in Spanish and English, helped Martinez learn his new language. Velasquez's favorite was "Tangerine," the story of a blind child who became a soccer player despite his disability.
After reading to the students, Sebastian and Enzo put down the books and pulled out the soccer balls and began juggling, much to the fascination and "ooos and ahhs" of the children.
They also left a touching and perhaps necessary lesson for the children in this Utah elementary school.
"The fulfillment of duty and respect for teachers and parents is the most important thing," Velazquez said.
Martinez advised: "A lot of discipline and dedicated studying is what you have to do if you want to become a professional."
"Doing well in school is very important," Velasquez said, while Martinez reminded the children "if you want to play professional football you must have good grades, too."
Before leaving, the players were mobbed by the students for autographs and pictures. As part of the reading week celebration theme, many of the students were wearing their favorite soccer jerseys. The teams represented were from all over the world, the most popular being Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, England, Brazil, Peru and, of course, Real Salt Lake.
"For a lot of our students this was a dream come true!" said third-grade teacher, Suzy Ramos.