BTN LiveBIG: Ohio State athletes make reading fun

If football players at The Ohio State University need an example of the rewards of giving back, they need to look no further than two of their coaches.

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and defensive line coach Mike Vrabel are among the co-founders of The 2nd & 7 Foundation, which promotes literacy and an active lifestyle among central Ohio youth.

What was once a small program based around the three co-founders making appearances to read to second-grade classes has exploded into one of the flagship community outreach programs at Ohio State. Former OSU linebacker Ryan Miller is the third former Buckeyes star involved.

“It has gone way beyond my wildest imagination,” Miller said.

In 1999, Miller was looking for a way to give back to the community a few years after his Ohio State career was over. Thinking back on his playing days, the impact reading to local elementary school classes had on him came to mind, and the concept for the 2nd & 7 Foundation was born.

Their first event was a football camp near Fickell’s home, with the proceeds used to provide books to second graders at seven different schools. It was successful enough for the three to found the organization.

Over the years, the two centerpieces of the program – reading to children and hosting a yearly football camp each summer – have not changed. But the growth of the program shows how ingrained the foundation has become within Ohio State athletics.

Now, rather than Miller, Fickell and Vrabel being the primary readers, the emphasis has shifted to OSU student-athletes. While the founders still take part when they can, members of each of the 36 sports at Ohio State now read to second graders every Thursday and Friday during the school year.

“That was our original idea when we first started,” Fickell said. “Ryan and I didn’t know where he would be or where I’d be. The goal was to always have our student-athletes involved. After four to five years, we could pass it along to them and say, ‘Here’s the guys who are the faces now.’ ”

Additionally, The 2nd & 7 Foundation now produces its own children’s books that are read and distributed during every classroom visit. Originally, creating their own books was a way to save money for the foundation rather than buying the work of others; now, the organization has found that producing the books allows them to have more influence on the message as well.

“[Book production is] a pretty long process, but it ends up being super fun and exciting,” Miller said. “When you have kids of your own and you’re bouncing ideas off of them and they laugh or they don’t laugh. We’ve changed the books in the past based upon what an 8-year-old says. You have to know your audience.”

The books have an undeniable Buckeyes imprint on each one, from characters influenced by (or, in some cases, named for) former OSU players and coaches to the actual production of each story.

Meanwhile, the football camp has grown every year as well. It now covers three days, and Buckeye legends like Kirk Herbstreit and Joey Galloway are joined by current players in the foundation’s annual pool tournament fundraiser.

“I think it’s just a good thing to go out there and give back to the community,” starting defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “You have a bunch of guys who love doing it. There are some people who go to it a lot. I think that’s great that our team is trying to be more involved in the community and giving back.”

Add it all up and it’s clear that giving back through a foundation like the 2nd & 7 is a team effort at Ohio State.

For more information about The 2nd & 7 Foundation, go to: http://www.secondandseven.com/

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