EVANSDALE --- When Ryan Sloth began thinking about writing a children's book, the former Iowa State Cyclones football player focused on what he already knew.
"I know a lot about sports," the 34-year-old told a group of first-graders Monday at Poyner Elementary School before reading his two sports-themed books. Sloth, who attended Dike Elementary School and graduated from Belmond-Klemme High School, has spent years playing and coaching football.
Part of the Cyclones' first bowl victory in 2000, Sloth went on to play arena football with the Iowa Barnstormers and other teams in California and Ohio. After suffering an injury, he began coaching and completed a four-year stint as an assistant coach with the Barnstormers last year.
Sloth came up with the idea of publishing a book while reading to his son, Tucker, who is now in kindergarten. He imagined including Tucker and himself in the story as characters along with other family members and friends. The result was "Sammy Sloth --- Sports Superstar" and, later, "Sammy Sloth's Big Golf Tourney," published by Tate Publishing Co.
First-grade teacher Dawn Even organized Sloth's presentation at Poyner, which ended with a book signing by the author. Sloth made presentations Monday to all grade levels at the school. He is visiting Dike Elementary today and La Porte City Elementary School on Thursday.
Even saw the theme of perseverance in striving to achieve a person's dreams in the stories. So, after Even read the books in class, her students completed a writing project on the theme.
"They did some writing on what they want to do when they grow up," she said. They made headbands out of construction paper labeled with the kind of work they hope to do as an adult, which were worn to the presentation. Her students also did some comparisons between the books and used the information for a math exercise.
After the presentation, students did another writing exercise: composing a thank-you letter to Sloth, complete with a picture they drew and colored.
Sloth created his central character as part of a writing assignment when he was a high school freshman. He showed students that original manuscript --- complete with drawings --- and explained how it became a rough draft for the first book. He added more characters to the story line, such as football coach Ryan Rhino and golf coach Tucker Turtle. Illustrator Kurt Jones created the book's art.
"I made all the characters animals," he said, since Sammy Sloth was inspired by the animal that shares his last name. The author pulled a stuffed toy sloth from a bag and quizzed children on their knowledge of the creature. One of the first things he heard was: "They're really, really slow."
"When I picked Sammy as my character, I knew he would be super slow," said Sloth, which is important to the story as Sammy tries out for a series of sports. In Sloth's second book, he introduces the character Taylor Tiger, named for his daughter and golfer Tiger Woods.
Sloth also has used his football background to land some movie roles. Cyclones teammate Damien Groce had a role as a football player in "The Longest Yard" and helped Sloth get started.
His first film was "We Are Marshall," starring Matthew McConaughey, in which he had one speaking line. Since movie studios contract out sports scenes, Sloth has had opportunities to appear in other movies, as well.
He was in "Leatherheads," starring George Clooney, and several other movies that have not yet been released. He will be in "Touchback" and the next "Spiderman" and "Batman" movies. He has also appeared in a couple episodes of the TV series "Necessary Roughness."
For more information about Sloth's books, go to www.coachsloth.com.