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VOL. 127 | NO. 244 | Friday, December 14, 2012
Don Wade

Don Wade

Local Students Give Back With Literacy Program

By Don Wade

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A lot of people have good ideas that could change the world, or at a little piece of it. But often those ideas never quite turn into action.

Two Memphis University School seniors – basketball player Jonathan Wilfong and football player and wrestler Andrew Renshaw – had just such a good idea. Inspired by “Caddy for a Cure,” in which an individual makes a donation to a charity and in turn gets to caddy for a PGA golfer, they created “Coaching for Literacy – The Assistant Coach Program for Promoting Literacy.”

A donation, such as the $2,500 one made for the Saturday, Dec. 15, Louisville-Memphis game at FedExForum, earns a fan and his or her guest a behind-the-scenes gameday experience with a coach and tickets behind the bench. In this case, the Tigers’ bench and time with coach Josh Pastner. More important, the money goes toward the goal of raising $50,000 to help 25 to 50 motivated but underprivileged youth improve their reading to grade level.

Renshaw, who scored a perfect 36 on the ACT, notes that their friends at MUS all thought their idea was “cool,” but also said: “That’s a lot of work.”

A couple of months ago, Wilfong and Renshaw had their own doubts about turning their idea into reality.

“We weren’t as excited early on because we weren’t sure we could pull it off,” Wilfong admitted.

His father, John Wilfong, a former University of Memphis basketball player, recalls a day several weeks ago when he and AutoZone CEO Bill Rhodes were in the MUS gym on a Saturday. Rhodes’ son Charlie, a seventh grader, was working out. So was Jonathan. The “Coaching for Literacy” project came up. Rhodes was so impressed with the idea and the effort he pledged financial support.

“That was probably the most encouraging part of the campaign,” said the elder Wilfong. “That somebody like that, that they knew and respected, would support them. And then to have Pastner and Kevin Stallings (head coach at Vanderbilt) be immediately willing to participate.”

For Pastner, it was an easy decision.

“If you can learn to read and be educated, it can change generations in a family,” the coach said. “I commend these two young men for doing what they’re doing.”

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker and Pastner will both participate when those two schools meet on Jan. 19 at FedExForum. University of Virginia coach Tony Bennett has agreed to do a game and John Wilfong says they’re close to getting Kentucky’s John Calipari. Duke is a longer shot, but there also have been discussions with the New York Knicks about a game in the spring. They also hope to work something out with the Grizzlies.

Renshaw and Jonathan Wilfong have seen the value of reading up close and personal. Renshaw has foster brothers now playing college soccer who initially struggled with English as a second language. When John Wilfong realized a football player from another local school who is headed to the SEC couldn’t read, the family stepped in to “catch him up,” Jonathan said. And Jonathan’s mother mentored a teenage girl from a Memphis housing project; she now has a college degree and owns her own home.

“If you get a kid a college education, you can escape any background,” Jonathan Wilfong said.

Want to help make dream come true and have a game day experience with a coach? Then contact “Coaching for Literacy” through the WiseHeart Foundation’s website, wiseheartfoundation.org, or reach out on Twitter @CoachingforLit.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the Jon & Don Show on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

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