McSweeney’s WHL Community Collective: Tri-City Americans
Pasco, Wash.- It’s always an exciting day in Natalie Arellano’s third and fourth-grade class when a large box of letters arrives.
The class has spent the past several months getting to know Tri-City Americans players through the team’s Pen Pal Club, which is sponsored by Washington Healthplanfinder.
“They made a huge impact on the students,” Arellano, a teacher at Emerson Elementary School in Pasco, Washington, said. “It was really exciting for them that they were able to write a letter and that somebody took the time to write back to them.”
The players have been writing to roughly 100 students at local elementary schools- and sending along free tickets to games.
“Hockey has changed my life for sure,” Americans rookie defenceman Jackson Smith said. “So sharing what I’ve been through and learned through hockey and my experiences and how fun it’s been for me, hopefully, they might take it and maybe go home to their parents and be like, ‘Hey, this kid sent me a letter saying he plays hockey, do you think I could try it?’ And maybe it changes their life, too.”
While some kids are curious about hockey and the other sports the athletes play, other students have questions about pets, siblings, video games and even bestowed their correspondents with new nicknames.
“One kid, he told me he would call me Michael Jordan. I thought that was pretty funny,” forward Jordan Gavin said. “We don’t actually get to see them but it’s just cool being able to write to them and for them to write back. I think it’s an awesome experience. I think a lot of teams should kind of look into it.”
Our players wrote Pen Pal letters to nearly 100 elementary students across the Tri-Cities area yesterday! 📬@WAplanfinder sponsors this program and allows us to send a pair of tickets to each student that participates. We’re thankful for their support of local communities! pic.twitter.com/ABsylKRxJK
— Tri-City Americans (@TCAmericans) December 1, 2023
Beyond building a community connection, Arellano says the letters are a fun way for students to continue to develop social and fine motor skills.
Much of the students’ school experience has been online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made practicing certain skills more difficult.
“Those developmental years when they’re learning how to hold a pencil or interact with somebody, they missed a lot of that,” Arellano explained. “Something as simple as writing a pen pal where it’s somebody new and different and exciting, it kind of helps them with that interaction with people. But the main thing is just getting them to write, which is hard to do. It was a really good motivation. I had kids in here who don’t like to write that were so excited to write a letter.”
“On the flip side, I think it’s really important for the players to have those connections to students. Now they have kids that want to go to hockey games and are there to specifically say ‘Oh, that that guy wrote to me, you know, I’m going to cheer for him.'”
The Western Hockey League strives to promote and foster a welcoming environment in communities close to our 22 clubs in Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest. Every team has the creative freedom to allow their players and staff to work with the organizations and groups that they are most passionate about. The end goal is to create and maintain long-lasting relationships and ongoing partnerships within their community.
Through the McSweeney’s WHL Community Collective, we aim to highlight these outstanding initiatives done by each club throughout the season.