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School project springs to life with visit from retired baseball great

posted Jan 2, 2015, 11:24 AM by Fran Prentice

Sometimes, thanks to hard work and unexpected good luck, a school assignment can exceed all the expectations of a teacher or, to use a baseball metaphor, hit a home run.   Such was the case with Wells Junior High School eighth grade student Karissa Kenyon when, to the delight of her and surprise of fellow classmates and school staff, retired Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant accepted her invitation to be a guest speaker at WJHS and a part of her Social Studies project.

This fall, one of Kenyon’s teachers, Matt Coleman, assigned his class to examine the subject of immigration.   For this assignment, Coleman asked students to select different angles to approach this often polarizing subject.

Kenyon decided to research the impact that immigration has had on baseball over the years.   To do this, she examined the career of pitcher Luis Tiant and his journey from being a Cuban ballplayer in Castro’s Cuba to becoming an American playing in the Major Leagues.

As luck would have it, Kenyon’s dad had a chance encounter with Tiant at a local convenience store in Wells.  The two talked about Karissa’s project and Tiant agreed to a telephone interview with her.  Next Tiant accepted an invitation from Kenyon to visit Coleman’s class and speak about immigration.

Coleman found that the soft-spoken Tiant was a “great speaker” who offered many anecdotes.   “He had so many positive things to say, really good stuff,” said Coleman.  

Tiant also visited Anne Gallo’s classroom to interact with students.  Gallo, a big Red Sox fan and teaching teammate of Coleman, helped bring students up to speed about Tiant’s baseball career and legacy by using clippings and photos to make a display.  

Tiant, the subject of the film, “Last Son of Havana” spent two hours at the school.  He not only spoke and took questions but showed his World Series ring, signed autographs, posed for photos and talked about his famous pitching windup move.  “If it is not working for you, you have to change it,” Coleman quoted Tiant as saying about his pitching style and life in general.   

“It was great,” said Coleman of Tiant’s visit.  Coleman said he wanted students to make the issue of immigration three dimensional but never expected a student to produce a real life immigrant, much less one who is also a famous baseball player.  “She took it (the project) several notches above that,” said Coleman. 

Luis Tiant, whose father was also a baseball pitcher, pitched for other Major League teams besides the Sox in his illustrious career. He played for Boston from 1971 to 1978, which included pitching in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

Caption: Sitting at the front of Anne Gallo’s class room at WJHS with student Karissa Kenyon on December 12th  is Red Sox great Luis Tiant (photo courtesy of WJHS student John Box)

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