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Pittsburgh Penguins reward Westmont student for letter

Feb. 3—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — What was initially a typical writing assignment for Westmont Hilltop fifth-grader Joey Beblar turned into a surprise gift from his favorite hockey team — the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Beblar was tasked by his teacher, Hannah Schmidt, with penning a letter to a group or organization, while his classmates reached out to others.

After considering the assignment, he decided on the Penguins because of his love for the team.

"I am writing this letter as an assignment for my writing class," Beblar wrote. "One time when I went to a game you guys were fighting back the whole game. It was overtime and won 7-0. I also like when you guys score and save goals. And when you guys get hurt, you always fight back and never give up."

The boy's words rung true with the professional hockey organization because Kevin Acklin, Penguins president of business operations, responded with his own letter and some gifts for the student.

He received a signed Sidney Crosby jersey and four tickets for his family to attend an upcoming game.

"I was happy and really excited," the student said.

Acklin's letter thanked the Westmont student for taking the time to write to the team and sharing his thoughts — Beblar provided some helpful criticism in his correspondence with the Penguins about how they might improve on defense.

"Your letter reminded me of what I was writing in writing class in grade school at St. Rosalia in Greenfield, dreaming about my future and wondering what career I wanted to pursue," Acklin wrote. "I had no idea that one day I would become president of business operations for the Penguins — a team that I first loved when I was your age — but it all started in my grade school writing class, where you are today."

He also told the student to follow his dreams, thank his teacher for pursuing a career in education, and added that he's looking forward to hosting the Beblars soon and hearing more of the youngster's advice "on how we can bring another Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh."

Acklin said by email it was great to receive the letter from Beblar.

"I always love hearing from our young fans like Joey who are inspired by our players, and I give full credit to his teacher for her efforts to challenge her students to dream big and work hard to make a difference in the world," he said, adding that he remembers "growing up in Pittsburgh rooting for Mario Lemieux and the Penguins" and that the city and fans are the true owners of the organization.

Beblar was called down to the elementary office around lunch when the package arrived in January to open it and explore the goodies inside.

He said he was surprised and thankful to get the gifts from his favorite team.

Schmidt was also taken off guard by the jersey and tickets but noted that the response reinforced the point of the assignment.

"We do a lot of of writing throughout the year but with this assignment specifically I wanted them to see that their words matter," she said.

Other groups the students wrote to included the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, fast food restaurant Wendy's, Vale Wood Farms and Kellogg's.

Beblar has been a hockey fan for several years and enjoys watching the games with his dad and siblings.

Michael Beblar, Joey's father, said he's been a lifelong Penguins fan and passed that on to his children.

"We don't watch every game because of life but we do watch games together," he said. "(Joey) knows all the players' names."

The Beblar family often attends Johnstown Tomahawks games and typically one Penguins match a year.

When Westmont staff contacted Michael Beblar about the gifts his son received, the father said he was very surprised but thrilled about the news.

Joey Beblar said he's already picked the game he wants to go to — March 11 when the Penguins face the Philadelphia Flyers.

As for the jersey, he intends to frame it to match the jerseys his father has preserved.