Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
Dr. Michael Pickard (left), Don Verlin (middle), Chris Helbling (right)
Verlin to receive Literacy Award
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 04/04/2014
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DALLAS – Over the past six years, Idaho men’s basketball coach Don Verlin has been growing his Readers as Leaders program in Moscow and the surrounding communities, reaching about 2,500 elementary school kids in 2013-14. Sunday, Verlin will be recognized with the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Literacy Champion Award for the program’s success.

Readers as Leaders was started back in 2008 with the help of Idaho assistant coach Chris Helbling, former elementary teacher Jodi Donaldson and Dr. Michael Pickard as program director. When the program began it reached most elementary students in Moscow, but with Dr. Pickard as the catalyst, Readers as Leaders has expanded to include all Moscow, Troy, Potlatch and Genesee elementary students and incorporated multiple incentive levels for each student.

“With all successful programs you must have outstanding teamwork,” Verlin said. “Coach Helbling and Dr. Pickard have done an unbelievable job of organizing and working with our men’s basketball team as well as a number of principals and teachers to help develop and grow the program every year.”

The Literacy Champion Award recognizes a coach who has used the game of basketball, his program and his players to promote to children the importance of reading, writing and technological skills. The award acknowledges the coach whose teaching and leadership are generally thought to occur on the basketball court, but who uses his position to enhance literacy in children.

Notable past winners of the Literacy Champion Award include Tubby Smith (Kentucky/2005), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke/2000) and Fran Fraschilla (New Mexico/1999).

“Obviously it’s a great honor,” Verlin said, “and we are really humbled. To think about starting this program six years ago and seeing it grow as much as it has grown and how big it has become, I’m really proud. It’s such a prestigious award.”

In Idaho’s Readers as Leaders program, the men’s basketball team visits several local elementary schools near the beginning of the basketball season, encouraging students to challenge themselves with reading goals. The student’s teachers set three levels of reading goals for each elementary class. After students achieve the first reading goal they receive a “Readers as Leaders” t-shirt, which gains them free admission into home men’s basketball games. Students who go on to achieve Silver and Gold reading goals are entered into a drawing for a laptop computer, Kindle readers and book gift certificates.

During one of the final home basketball games each season there is a special recognition of the Readers as Leaders students who achieved their reading goals on the court at halftime and all the grand prizes are presented.

Teachers often credit the program for motivating students to read more, Pickard explained.

“I have enjoyed watching kids not only develop an interest and passion for reading, but grow in their self-confidence,” he said. “This program highlights what can be accomplished when college athletics partners with the community to build and strengthen our youth’s education. I am impressed with Coach Verlin, the men’s basketball team and Vandal athletics’ interest, support and commitment in promoting reading and education through the Readers as Leaders program.”

“The program has grown year-in and year-out and a lot of that has been because of Michael Pickard, Coach Helbling helping, and our guys,” Verlin said. “You have to give our guys a lot of credit, they do a great job with the kids and they have a lot of fun, they’re great role models for the kids.”

The award will be presented at the annual AT&T NABC Guardians of the Game Awards Show at The Music Hall at Fair Park, beginning at 4 p.m. Pacific.

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