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01/12/10 1:04 AM EST

Hamels makes 'Pitch for Dairy'

Essay by student wins visit by Phillies pitcher

It turns out that drinking milk can not only make you healthy, it can land you a visit by Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels.

Nearly 400 students at St. Maximilian Kolbe Elementary School in West Chester, Pa., could barely contain their excitement early Monday morning. They knew that Hamels was in the building for the special "I Pitch for Dairy" rally being held in their honor, and they couldn't wait to meet him.

The event was held in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association, which recently ran an essay contest asking students across the Delaware Valley to write about the importance of having three servings of dairy daily. The winner would get to have Hamels come to their school.

Eighth grader Bernadette Tankle was stunned when she found out that she had received top honors.

"At first I thought I was in trouble, because a teacher was calling my house," said Tankle.

Soon she realized "this is real" -- and quickly told her parents, sister and brother.

"They started screaming," recalls Tankle with a smile.

Of course, when Hamels walked through the gymnasium doors, more screams erupted -- this time from Tankle's classmates.

"Thank you for having me here," said Hamels -- and the crowd went wild once more.

Then Tankle had the honor of asking the left-hander questions on behalf of the entire school. Hamels graciously responded and talked about why he felt it was important to make the pitch for dairy.

"This was something I really took to heart," said Hamels. "Growing up, my parents were really into health food. My mom always made sure I had breakfast, because that was the most important meal of the day to get me on my feet. I realized that every time I went out and ate healthy, I've gone out and performed a lot better."

Joining Hamels in his efforts was registered dietitian Althea Zanecosky, who talked to the students about healthful eating and introduced "home run" and "strikeout" foods. Phillies Ballgirls attended the assembly as well and distributed "Got Milk" book bags.

Broadcaster Tom McCarthy, who emceed the event, was more than impressed by the school's spirit and enthusiasm.

"The fact that every student was wearing Phillies red and showing how excited they were ... was just so great," said McCarthy.

Tankle returned the compliment.

"I love Cole Hamels. I love the Phillies. They are amazing," she said.

Deb Rinaldi is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.