After months of exchanging letters, UNC student-athletes finally met their elementary school pen pals in person last week at Boshamer Stadium. Along with the fourth-graders from New Hope Elementary School, a total of 52 student-athletes from 15 sports attended the meet-and-greet, making it one of the largest Carolina Outreach events of the school year.
Before the North Carolina-North Carolina A&T baseball on Tuesday evening, Tar Heel student-athletes met and chatted with the youngsters, who came to the game with their parents or by school bus. Then the pen pals watched the game together as UNC beat the Aggies 10-0.
" There aren't words to describe what an amazing night this was for our students ... simply unforgettable," said Jessica Honeycutt, the class's teacher.
Tar Heels have been exchanging letters with the fourth-graders from New Hope Elementary School since last fall. Pen pals write every two weeks and Zoe Skinner, a senior on the women's lacrosse team who organized the project, acts as a courier, shuttling letters back and forth. She's greeted by enthusiastic recipients on both sides, as the Carolina students have gotten just as much from the project as the New Hope students.
"I think the pen pal program has been outstanding for not only our lacrosse team, but for the Carolina Athletics program as a whole," said Joe Costigan, a sophomore on the men's lacrosse team. "We have been able to connect multiple student-athletes with aspiring young students in our Carolina community. I personally was able to write and get to know two pen pals this past year, which was great.
"The baseball game was an awesome event for all us to be able to actually meet our pen pals after many months of writing letters. We were able to put a face to the names and hang out with many younger students we had been writing to for the past several months. The event was really enjoyable for both our pen pals and student-athletes. I can't wait for the program to continue next year!"
The other Tar Heel student-athletes who participated in the program agreed that it was a great experience for both sides, and smiles all around confirmed that everyone enjoyed Tuesday's gathering.
" It was nice to finally meet the kids we had been writing letters to throughout the year," said Kelsey Barnhill, a sophomore on the women's fencing team. "It was so great seeing the fourth graders excited about meeting their athlete pen pals and sporting their Carolina gear. It was their first time on campus in many cases and they loved getting to go to a Carolina baseball game.
"I talked to my pen pal, who plays softball, about athletics at UNC and how much I loved being on the fencing team. Maybe one day she will end up on the softball team here! It was a great event and the kids definitely got something out of meeting their athlete pen pals."
Tessa Lyons, a senior on the women's tennis team, agreed.
"It was a really fun event and we could all tell how excited the pen pals were to spend time with us," Lyons said. "They were all grinning from ear to eat and to spend even 30 minutes with them made their day. I didn't have to do much of the talking because my pen pal talked the whole time - it's awesome how writing letters back and forth has created this friendship that is very special to both of us."