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Neal, Gov. team up to encourage reading

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Gov. Susana Martinez hopes kids like Noodles.

Moments before rushing off in a helicopter to return to assess the fires blazing in northern New Mexico on Saturday afternoon, Martinez and First Gentleman Chuck Franco stopped by the Pit to talk with elementary school kids attending the Craig “Noodles” Neal shooting camp.

The game plan was to encourage them to take part in the Nothing But Net Lobo/Aggie Summer Reading Shootout — a partnership with the state’s Public Education Department and the men’s and women’s basketball teams at UNM and New Mexico State to get kids to keep reading while on summer vacation.

“Otherwise they experience what’s called the summer slide,” Martinez said. “It takes them a while to catch back up (when they return to school) to where they left off the previous year. We don’t want them to experience that summer slide.”

Neal, running his first round of summer basketball camps as a head coach, was more than happy to team with the governor and use his first camps as a platform to kick off the program, though attendance at a summer camp at either school is not a requirement to enter the contest (details are at ReadingChallenge.ped.state.nm.us).

“She called and asked if I’d be interested in doing something like this and I said ‘yeah,’” Neal said. “Even before I really knew the details of the program, I said of course.”

The morning session of the weekend shooting camp (Saturday and today) included about 125 elementary-aged kids. while well more than 100 seventh- through 12th-grade kids participated in the afternoon sessions— both record numbers for a UNM camp, according to the Lobos basketball office.

“When people look up to (Neal) and he is speaking about education, I think lots of kids are going to listen,” Martinez said. “They listen to lots of different people, but I think a lot of kids are going to listen to him just because they think so highly of him. That’s why we want that partnership.”

The reading challenge, which includes several various prizes for kids ages 7-10 or those entering grades 2-4, also will be pushed later this summer at the Yvonne Sanchez Lobos women’s basketball camps as well as the men’s and women’s camps at NMSU.

UNM video coordinator Brandon Mason said the Lobo men’s team will hold an individual skills camp Monday through Thursday for first- through 12th-graders (split into two sessions). The Lobo Team camp for high school-age teams starting June 13 already has more than 50 teams signed up.

Registration for those is available by calling the Lobo offices at 925-5750 or emailing Mason at bmason@unm.edu.

Among those helping Neal run the camp are current and former Lobos players and the coaching staff.

Saturday, Kendall Williams and Hugh Greenwood were among the current players joining in on layup drills. Former players Dairese Gary, A.J. Hardeman and Chad Adams were also on hand to help. Ex-Lobos Daniel Faris and Roman Martinez are expected to help out in the coming week.

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