The K-Grams program had 4,376 reasons to be thankful last Friday night.
The single largest regular season crowd in the women’s gymnastic team’s history was more than just an attendance record. Comcast had agreed to write a check to K-Grams for as many dollars as there were people in the crowd.
K-Grams was started in the summer of 1998 by then-sophomore Rishi Moudgil. The program pairs up college students with elementary school students through different types of programs — the pen-pal program is the most widely known program. K-Grams formally joined forces with the women’s gymnastics team during the 2001-2002 season. At first, the gymnasts made a few visits to Detroit schools, and the inaugural “K-Grams” night at Crisler Arena was in 2002-2003.
Each year, members of the gymnastics team visit a number of schools in southeast Michigan and, specifically, the Ann Arbor area. They not only promote the importance of hard work in the classroom, but also provide a fun atmosphere for kids every time they visit. Both junior Jenny Deiley and senior Elise Ray agree that the best part of these visits is the question and answer sessions.
“We get a little bit of time to mingle with (the kids),” Ray said. “They ask great questions, and it’s a great time.”
The children aren’t the only ones having fun. The gymnasts also enjoy themselves and can take home stories that they tell their friends for years to come. When elementary school students are presented with a chance to ask college-aged students questions, they make the most of it.
“I tend to get, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ ” Deiley said. “ ‘What’s you favorite subject?’ Nothing related to gymnastics, usually.”
Ray also recalls the young pupils’ fascination with the gymnasts’ ability to bend and twist like a pretzel. Unfortunately for the young kids, the Wolverines can’t perform their routines on the spot.
“I think our coach would be mad if we got hurt,” Ray said with a laugh. “That’s always our answer.”
Michigan coach Bev Plocki believes the visits do even more than making a difference in other’ lives. She explains that Michigan athletes are fortunate to be a part of such a well-funded program. She said that community service projects — such as K-Grams and other programs like C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital visits — help keep athlete grounded.
“(At Michigan), it is pretty easy to start feeling like you’re something — I think it’s really important for our kids to get out to the schools with K-Grams and be a part of something that keeps them realizing what kind of role models they are,” Plocki said.
Plocki added that the visits are extremely helpful for the young children. She hopes her student/athletes will help inspire the kids to make the right choices later in life.
“I would like to think we’ve touched some kids’ lives,” Plocki said. “That (the kids) will have been motivated by something that one of our kids have told them about — hanging on to your dreams and working hard and how that will pay off down the road.”
After Friday night’s win over Penn State, the gymnasts stuck around to sign autographs and talk to their admirers. The moments after a meet are another opportunity for the Wolverines to interact with their fans. On Friday, it was another chance to touch the lives of the young pupils who looked up to the gymnasts in the classroom.
“I absolutely love when I walk by and the little kids (say), ‘Jenny rocks!’ ” Deiley said. “I get so into it. I’m glad that our team really goes out of the way to make sure we acknowledge all their (presences).”