(This story originally appeared on www.oaoa.com)
BY GEOFF FOLSOM
Bradley Pettit’s classroom has become a museum of pop culture.
There’s a signed Ice Cube compact disc, sent before it was even released to the public. An autographed Emmitt Smith jersey. Stephen King wrote a letter. There’s a 1973 Newsweek magazine signed by Loretta Lynn. Autographed photos abound, ranging from Harrison Ford to Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.
“Yesterday, FedEx banged on the door and it was two from Taylor Swift,” said Pettit, an English teacher at Bonham Junior High.
The students obtained the signatures as the result of a class project. Each of Pettit’s 160 seventh- and eighth-graders picked a celebrity and wrote a letter to his or her agent.
Pettit said they were able to get the agents’ contact information from the Contact Any Celebrity website.
“Since their agents have every day contact with them, they can do it,” Pettit said.
Pettit said that contacting agents directly has drastically improved the results. Since they sent their letters in October, 55 signed items have been sent to students, already an improvement over the 36 that came back last year.
This year, the students were instructed not to send items to be signed. Instead they simply asked the celebrities for an autograph.
“Last year, I let them send things, but some of it didn’t come back,” Pettit said. “So I don’t want to be responsible.”
That hasn’t stopped some of the celebrities from sending collectable items. Manny Pacquiao sent signed boxing gloves, while Roger Staubach parted with a signed rookie card. Clint Eastwood sent an autographed collector’s magazine.
Not every one has sent an autograph back. Pettit said Derek Jeter and Bruce Willis’ agents sent letters saying that they couldn’t obtain autographs from their clients, with Willis’ agent writing a detailed letter explaining why he was unable to get a signature.
But the students hold out hope of getting autographs back from the celebrities they have yet to hear from. Pettit said Ted Nugent didn’t send an autograph last year until the summer break.
While collecting autographs is something many kids do in their spare time, Pettit said bringing it into school isn’t just for fun.
“They have to do a certain amount of writing assignments,” he said. “It’s hard to get them to write and enjoy it, so I figured, if they could get a reward for it, it would make them want to write.”
Jake Ruiz, 13, said he was surprised when he got autographed photos of legendary NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Dan Marino,
“I didn’t think they were going to send anything,” the eighth-grader said. “It was unexpected, kind of. I thought they would be too busy.”
Eighth-grader Mark Larrocha, 13, got an autograph from Academy Award winner Michael Douglas. With Douglas recently announcing he was battling throat cancer, Larrocha said the signed photo has more sentimental than monetary value.
“It’s heartbreaking that he has cancer even though he’s such a good actor,” Larrocha said. “I was excited when I got it. Even though he has cancer, if he dies, his soul will live on.”
Bonham principal James Ramage said the autograph program could be picked up by the school’s other two English teachers in the future.
“We’re amazed at some of the things of high value they send back,” he said. “It’s real neat for the kids because the important thing is it gets them writing.”
SOME ITEMS STUDENTS HAVE RECEIVED
* Personalized typed letters from authors Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
* Handwritten letters from Dallas Cowboys Jason Witten and Marion Barber, rapper Ice Cube and singer Taylor Swift.
* A signed Odessa College swim cap from swimmer Michael Phelps.
* A signed rookie card from Roger Staubach.
* Signed bandanas from former Ultimate Fighting champion Randy Couture and country singer Charley Pride.
* A signed letter and magazine from boxer Manny Pacquiao.
* A signed and numbered Emmitt Smith throwback jersey.
* Signed magazines from Loretta Lynn and Clint Eastwood.
* Signed photos from Ozzy Osbourne, Powers Boothe, George Jones, Michael Jordan, John Travolta, Robert Redford, Tori Amos, Peyton Manning, Black Veil Brides, Skillet, Candace Parker, Bobby Flay, Chip Kelly, Mark Hamill, Tony Hawk, Michael Douglas, Paula Deen, Harrison Ford, Rihanna, Fantasia, Mike Modano, Troy Aikman, Phil Mickelson, Darius Rucker, Ted Nugent, Daniel Radcliffe, Dan Marino and Brett Favre.
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