Ravens player rewards Pa. students for kindness

MCSHERRYSTOWN, Pa. - The words "game time" reverberated throughout the gym. About 250 purple and black-clad students standing in ascending height order were the source of the cheer, as Ray Rice publicists pumped them up for Sunday's big game.

More cheers swept through the student body of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School mid-morning Friday as they learned they'd each be receiving a free Baltimore Ravens Rice or Torrey Smith T-shirt donated by Rice. The clapping and whooping resumed when they learned their lunch would consist of free cheese pizza donated by Ledo Pizza in Westminster.

It was a Ray Rice-approved reward.

"My team is on the way to deliver a Purple Friday pizza party and pep rally to the ABVM school in [McSherrystown] PA," Rice's official Facebook fan page says. "I'm rewarding the kiddos for the kindness they showed to their 8 yr old classmate who recently lost everything in a house fire."

The 8-year-old he's referring to is Giana Hoddinott, and a house fire engulfed her Littlestown, Pa., home on Jan. 5.

There were no personal injuries, as the family was not home at the time, said family patriarch Mike Hoddinott. Yet, from seeing his house ablaze to learning of the death of the family dog and cat to seeing the school community rally around his family, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions.

The Hoddinotts have been a staple in the school's community for quite some time. Their 22- and 20-year-old sons attended from kindergarten through eighth-grade school. Family matriarch, Angela Hoddinott, is the kitchen manager. Mike Hoddinott coaches third- and fourth-grade basketball. And Giana attends third grade.

After the fire destroyed the family's home, students in the school donated at least a dollar three Fridays in a row. That bought them a dress down day, meaning they could wear purple or black Ravens garb - instead of their uniform of slacks and plaid skirts - a nod to the Hoddinotts' Ravens allegiance.

"They put all their rivalries aside," said principal Christy Lucas, "and the kids were just so excited."

The school's 250 students raised about $2,250 for the Hoddinott family - an effort that goes along with this school year's theme called "sowing seeds of kindness; flourishing in the blessings of the spirit," Lucas said.

"It's humbling," Mike Hoddinott said. "People really have shown a lot of thoughtfulness and support and been there for us."

Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, got wind of the effort and Deb Poquette - his publicist from Official Prestige PR - said he told her this act of kindness needed to be rewarded.

"He said, 'Well if they've been doing Purple Fridays, let's just go and do one, and do it really big,'" Poquette said.

Then Ledo Pizza got wind of it, as the Ray Rice Foundation reached out to the store to deliver 35 large cheese pizzas at the pep rally. The Westminster pizzeria crew arrived at the store early to make the pies, which it donated to Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School.

"You'd think there would be other things on [Ray Rice's] mind," said Ralph Dell, Westminster Ledo pizza owner, "but he's helping this family and the school."

And the students showed their appreciation in the form of a chant. All eyes were on the school's cheerleaders as they took the floor, and shouted, 'Come on crowd, yell thank you, Ravens!"

The response, "Thank you, Ravens," echoed throughout the gym.

Later, Angela Hoddinott walked up to the podium's microphone, consumed with emotion.

"I'm just so overwhelmed by all of this," she said, choked up. "[It's] just a very, very special family at Annunciation."

Staff writer Brandon Oland contributed to this story.