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Thief River Falls boy inspired by tweet from football hero

A 9-year-old in Thief River Falls got the thrill of his young life recently when he received encouraging words in response to a tweet he'd sent a sports hero. It all began when Angel Flores, a fourth-grader at Challenger Elementary School, watche...

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Pam Knudson

A 9-year-old in Thief River Falls got the thrill of his young life recently when he received encouraging words in response to a tweet he'd sent a sports hero.

It all began when Angel Flores, a fourth-grader at Challenger Elementary School, watched a video that his teacher, Tevia Strand, showed in class.

In the video of CBS correspondent Steve Hartman's interview with Malcolm Mitchell, the New England Patriots wide receiver revealed how he had struggled with reading, but conquered that problem and went on to become a children's book author and NFL superstar.

Angel immediately wrote a letter to Mitchell and "came running to my office with (it) and asked if he could have an envelope and if I could mail it to Malcolm Mitchell," said Patrick Marolt, principal.

Reading hasn't been easy for Angel either, Marolt said, so Mitchell's story "really connected with him."

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Angel, who likes to play football, said he wrote the letter because "I wanted to be just like him. He won the Super Bowl."

But the two have more in common than just the love of football.

"He's a good reader, and I'm a good reader," Angel said.

Principal Marolt told Angel he didn't know Mitchell's address or how to get it and, besides that, "the letter might not even get to him," he said. "I had started following him on Twitter after I saw his E60 story on ESPN. I said we could possibly get a letter to him a lot faster via Twitter."

"Angel's letter was really really long," Marolt said, so he just read a portion of it in the video.

Right after the tweet was sent, Angel wanted to know when he might hear back.

"I told him that Mitchell was a busy guy and may not have time to respond," he said. "I tried to let him down easy. I didn't think (Mitchell) would reply at all."

But within 15 minutes, the football star tweeted back, saying, "My man, Angel. Always follow your dreams and believe in yourself. Keep reading, writing, and scoring touchdowns, buddy."

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"It was a goosebump moment," Marolt said, recalling his feelings when he spotted the message on his phone. "It was pretty cool."

Angel said he was "excited" when he saw Mitchell's tweet.

And that excitement hasn't worn off one bit, as evidenced by Angel's frequent visits with the principal.

"He loves to look at the video," Marolt said. "He comes into my office on his breaks to watch it."

In other news, members of the local Kiwanis Club and others celebrated the opening of a new playground near Grand Forks' Discovery Elementary School on Monday.

Discovery students and their families gathered to thank members of the Kiwanis Club and Discovery's Parent-Teacher Organization for their financial contributions and efforts to make the playground a reality, said Discovery Principal Ali Parkinson.

The playground at South Kiwanis Park was spearheaded by the Kiwanis Club and developed with grant funds from Kiwanis International, fundraising activities, and a contribution from Wal-mart, Parkinson said.

The Grand Forks' school system and park district work together, where possible, to create a park near schools, she said. Discovery is in its third year in operation.

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In its first year, "we started getting feedback from students" on preferred playground equipment and features, she said.

Then, on the national Election Day in November, Discovery's PTO held a schoolwide election.

"While everyone was voting for the president, our students had a ballot and they went into a voting booth and voted on which equipment they wanted added to our playground," Parkinson said. That vote influenced equipment-buying decisions.

"We tried to integrate it as a learning example," she said.

With the finished recreational space, the playground has doubled in size.

The most popular attraction, a zipline, is the first in town, Parkinson said, and has helped to make the park a "community destination".

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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