If they had their choice, students in a fifth-grade class in East Liverpool, Ohio, would almost certainly choose the Bluegrass region of Kentucky for their next field trip. That's where their hero, their role model, calls home.
Her name is Zenyatta, and students in Shari Voltz's home room, social studies, and PRIDE classes know all about Jerry and Ann Moss's Thoroughbred champion now residing at Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky. They've cheered her victories, suffered through her lone defeat, felt sorrow when she lost her pregnancy, even celebrated her recent birthday.
East Liverpool isn't a hotbed of horse racing, though it's just across the Ohio River from Chester, W. Va., and the old Waterford Park, now known as the Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.
Waterford Park is where Voltz , a native of nearby Steubenville, Ohio, was first introduced to horse racing by her father. She's been teaching in East Liverpool for 21 years, and she remembers being a young girl smitten by a big red horse named Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner.
When the “Secretariat” movie came out on DVD earlier this year, Voltz showed it to her class, and told them about Zenyatta, a modern-day racing hero ridden by her favorite jockey, Mike Smith.
“I had pictures in my classroom of Secretariat and Zenyatta, and we had a ‘Secretariat party' when the movie came out,” she said. “ There is something about Zenyatta that just captures you.
“Some of the kids knew about the Breeders' Cup, they knew Zenyatta lost, and we talked about it,” she said. “That's how it all started.”
Voltz, who taught special education classes for many years, saw the opportunity to use Zenyatta as a teaching tool. She began reading from the Zenyatta website managed by Dottie Ingordo, the wife of trainer John Shirreffs and racing manager for the Mosses, and kids learned of the important role horses of all breeds have played throughout history.
“Some of them wanted to know how Zenyatta was able to talk,” she said. “They wanted Zenyatta to visit the school.”
That didn't work out, so instead they sent cards and letters to Zenyatta at Lane's End. “She became a role model for them,” Voltz said. “One boy wrote, ‘I'll never give up, because in your last race, even though you lost, you never stopped trying.'”
Meanwhile, the engagement the kids had with Zenyatta increased their classroom attention.
“As a result of their interest in Zenyatta,” Voltz said, “they've learned about Paul Revere's horse, Brown Beauty, and they know the names of George Washington's three horses. We've researched some of the famous horses throughout history, looked at the different kinds of breeds and compared body types between Thoroughbreds and something like an Andalusian. The kids have learned about gestation in horses. We even did a chapter on economics, and the kids were building make-believe businesses. Some of them decided to build horse farms and breeding operations.”
One day, Voltz was stunned when a package arrived from Lane's End. It was a large box filled with individually wrapped presents for every one of her students. Each package had the student's name and was signed “Love, Z.” Inside was a Zenyatta Breyer model horse.
Sarah Campion, working with Ann Moss and Dottie Ingordo, had contacted Voltz after Lane's End received all the letters and cards from the East Liverpool kids. “I thought we might get a postcard or something, but what they did was very cool. I told the kids to save everything: the ribbon, the box, everything. And then Ann Moss called me one day. She was so down to earth. She thanked me for being a school teacher.”
Voltz plans to have a Derby party in her classroom next month. “We are going to cheer for Uncle Mo,” she said.
Has the school's administration or any of the parents objected to Voltz bringing horse racing into the classroom?
“Not at all,” she said. “The school has been great, and there's been no complaints from parents. One of them even said to me, ‘I'd rather have my child involved with Zenyatta than with Lindsay Lohan.'
“I'm not trying to turn them into gamblers,” Voltz said. “It's about the love of the horse.”
Thanks to the generosity of Three Chimneys Farm, the sponsor of Good News Friday, a donation of $100 will be sent to the East Liverpool Middle School. Three Chimneys will be donating that amount each and every week we bring you a story of people or organizations making a positive difference in our world.
Another $100 is being donated to these organizations each week by a Paulick Report reader who wishes to remain anonymous but who encourages all of our readers to open their hearts and pocketbooks for this good cause.
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