THONOTOSASSA — Lex Strickland, a Folsom Elementary School student with a passion for wrestling and a knack for reading, parlayed an online contest win into a chance to meet a wrestling superstar.
Lex, 7, of Temple Terrace, received the surprise of a lifetime Tuesday when Sheamus, a WWE wrestler known by fans for his fiery red hair and a temper to match, walked into Lex’s second-grade classroom.
“I heard a guy say, ‘Hey, everybody,’ ” Lex said recalling the moment he spotted his wrestling idol at his school. “I looked up and saw Sheamus. I was very happy.”
Lex, who earned a spot on the principal’s honor roll three times last school year, is an avid wrestling fan, said his parents, teachers and friends.
He watches televised wrestling matches regularly with his father, Doug. Lex often wears a WWE T-shirt and other wrestling-themed gear to school, and he frequently talks about the sport with friends and family.
“Lex is a massive WWE fan,” said Stephen Farrelly, who is known to wrestling fans worldwide as Sheamus. “He remembers stuff about me that I had forgotten.”
Lex’s love for the sport led him to enter a reading challenge contest on the World Wrestling Entertainment website earlier this year, Doug Strickland said.
Lex was chosen from among thousands of schoolchildren nationwide as the grand prize winner. He read all the books on the reading challenge list.
As the top winner, Lex earned a chance to have a WWE superstar visit his school and be his reading buddy for a day. Lex chose Sheamus, a 6-foot-4-inch, 267-pound wrestler who lives in Odessa.
A native of Dublin, Ireland, Farrelly has wrestled under the alias Sheamus since his training days at the former Florida Championship Wrestling Center in South Tampa from 2007 to 2009. He is recovering from a shoulder injury and is expected to return to the ring early next year.
Keeping the wrestler’s visit secret from Lex was tough, Doug Strickland said.
Lex’s parents, along with Folsom administrators and the WWE, spent nearly six months planning the wrestler’s visit to the school on Harney Road without telling Lex, said WWE spokesman Adam Hopkins.
The casually dressed wrestler had several presents for Lex, including a Sheamus action figure, a skateboard, tickets to a WWE Smack Down contest held Tuesday night at the Forum, and a necklace with a Celtic cross. Lex wore the necklace over the “Brogue Kick” T-shirt he wore to school Tuesday. The Brogue Kick is one of Sheamus’ signature moves.
Sheamus and Xavier Woods, an apprentice wrestler training at the NXT wrestling development center in Orlando, joined Lex and four of his best friends, Jerry Couzens, Tiergan Andrus-Rhoads, Jimmy Cates and Dominic Caro, for a pizza lunch before the book reading event.
The two wrestlers read the children’s book “Otis” by Loren Long to about 90 second-graders. Each child received a copy of the book signed by the wrestlers and Lex. The event was sponsored by We Give Books and the WWE.
Before saying goodbye, Sheamus encouraged the students to make reading a part of their daily lives.
“Find a book that you can get lost in and use your imagination,” Farrelly said.
Lex said he is certain to remember the day his wrestling idol dropped by school to see him.
“I had lunch with Sheamus, and my friends were with me,” Lex said. “And I got Smack Down tickets.”