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Kids win by reading

Tampa Bay hockey star Rudy Poeschek partied with pupils at four Pinellas County middle schools last week. He served pizza and soda and handed out prizes to the pupils who had met his reading challenge.

Through a Read with Rudy program sponsored by United HealthCare of Florida, Poeschek _ known on the ice as "The Enforcer" _ went into the schools earlier in the year and challenged the pupils to meet certain reading requirements set by their media specialists and teachers. He talked to them about the importance of reading in all careers and explained how he uses reading skills in team strategy sessions and learning about the competition.

Poeschek promised to return to party with those who met the challenge. That included 29 pupils at Tyrone Middle School and 50 at Meadowlawn Middle.

Josh Knox was one of 20 pupils who met the challenge at Clearwater Discovery.

"I usually read," he said. "I like mystery books and comedies."

Calvin and Hobbes are his favorite characters, he said.

At Southside Fundamental, 31 pupils met the challenge.

"The students had to write quite a bit about the books they read," said media specialist Emily Spiegel. "Tons of students read but didn't follow through with filling out the forms."

Those who did had a wonderful time at the pizza party, "because it was really low-key," she said. "You wouldn't know they call (Poeschek) "The Enforcer' on the hockey team because he is just so soft-spoken and is such a gentle man."

United Healthcare provided pizza and sodas, she said. One pupil at each school got a hockey stick and every pupil who met the challenge got an autographed puck and some other memorabilia. Each school also received two tickets for pupils and one for an adult to attend a local hockey game.

About 5,000 middle school pupils in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties participated in the program, reading more than a million pages beyond their normal class reading assignments.