By STEVEN NALLEY
Stacy Weems decided Chris Stratton is a good centerpiece for a class exercise on adjectives.
Weems, a second grade teacher at Sudduth Elementary School, said she plans to ask her students to brainstorm every adjective that describes Stratton, a pitcher for Mississippi State University’s baseball team who was awarded the C Spire Ferriss Trophy Monday. She said she has already come up with a list of adjectives of her own.
“(Stratton is) focused, humble, personable, polite, courteous, friendly, inspiring (and) True Maroon all the way,” Weems said.
She and her students know from first-hand experience.
Stratton visited Weems’ class Tuesday and will continue his visit today, signing autographs, playing catch and teaching students about the importance of a strong education.
Stratton is majoring in teaching and coaching at MSU, and he said arrangements for him to visit Sudduth began with a class he took on teaching students with special needs. Stratton said it was important to him to maintain a 4.0 average for the semester, so he was interested in the class’ special credit option: volunteering with school children for 12 hours.
“I told her ahead of time, ‘Look, I’d love to go, but I (don’t) really have time with going to practice and going to class,” Stratton said. “She pretty much extended it to where we were out of class, and I had time because I was out of school. She really has helped me out.
“I love little kids,” Stratton added. “They always put a smile on my face. (Working with them has) always been something I’ve liked to do. Vacation Bible School, I’ve always done that.”
So far, Weems said Stratton has not only given each student in her class a chance to throw pitches to him but also helped stage a second-grade play titled “It’s a Jungle Out There.” She said Stratton also signed several items students brought him, from baseballs to coloring books.
“They’re just going bananas,” Weems said. “Even the girls brought their baseball gloves today. I’ve just emphasized to them how much character he has. It’s always wonderful when we can interact with MSU students, but particularly when they are as strong a role model as he is. He’s going to be helping me academically as well as serving as a positive role model.”
Weems said Stratton also spoke to students about the importance of education and how much he values it even though his post-collegiate baseball prospects are strong. Stratton said if his baseball playing career ends prematurely for any reason, he plans to put his education to work coaching at the high school level.
“God’s blessed me with the talents I have,” Stratton said. “If they do allow me to (play professional baseball) in the future, that’s awesome, and I’ll try to be as good an example as I can to everyone. If that doesn’t happen, I need something to fall back on. I need to have good grades and just be able to pick up where I left off if baseball doesn’t work out.”
For that reason, Stratton said he told students academic success is more important than athletic success.
“If you don’t have good grades, you can’t go to college in the first place and continue your career in sports,” Stratton said. “I told them if I don’t make the grades, I can’t play on the field, and that hurts my team.”
One of Weems’ students, Henry Zimmerman, said he is a big fan of MSU baseball and attends as many home games as possible. He said he enjoyed Stratton’s visit and would like to play left field professionally when he grows up, but he is open to the possibility of working at a pet store or becoming a veterinarian. Either way, he said he plans to attend MSU.
“I love animals,” Zimmerman said. “I learned that education is really good because you can make a lot of money and you can help your family when you get older.”
Another student, Avery McKissick, said he enjoyed hearing about the value of education and hard work from Stratton, but he also enjoyed Stratton’s pitching advice. McKissick said Stratton also covered other sports.
“He told us everything about baseball, basketball (and) football,” McKissick said. “He’s a nice person.”