Step Up to the Challenge with the Jacksonville Suns

By Sarah Kirkwood

“Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.”

Peter Bragan Jr., President of the Jacksonville Suns, is happy to recite “Casey at the Bat” for anyone who wants to hear it. He’ll hand you the poem, ask you to read a few words and respond with the rest of the stanza.

The students who participate in “Catch Reading Fever with the Suns” probably don’t know the poem as well as Mr. Bragan, but every year about 12-20 5th graders successfully memorize and recite the 13-stanza poem.

The Suns’ literacy program started in the early 90’s when the woman in charge of the media centers for Duval County Public Schools struck a deal with Bragan: she would distribute the Suns’ bookmarks if he would put on a baseball uniform and read to the kids. The program eventually evolved into a bookmark design program in conjunction with the art teachers.

Today, Bragan visits local elementary schools where he talks about the importance of reading and comprehension, reads a story to the students and presents the Casey Challenge. Students spend months memorizing “Casey at the Bat” and when they are ready, Mr. Bragan comes back.

To Bragan, the best part of the Challenge isn’t the Suns bat or glove they earn by completing the poem: “When they finish, I always tell them: ‘You should feel a tremendous amount of pride right now,’” said Bragan. “You might play with this bat right now and break it, but you’ll never forget the feeling you have inside right now. This was a challenge- you accepted it, you took it and you did it.’”

Many professional teams are dedicated to making a difference in their communities. Comment below if you’d like me to highlight one of your favorites!


sarah-kirkwoodAbout the Author
Sarah Kirkwood was born and raised in Jacksonville and considers herself to be a true beach girl.  This soon-to-be Gator grad is finishing up her degree in public relations and is excited about the opportunities that await her after graduation.  A life-long love of sports and a first hand knowledge of how teams can positively impact a community has inspired her to seek a career in the sports field.