Memphis-based nonprofit using sports to raise awareness, funding for children's literacy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The average child in the U.S. entering the fourth grade is not reading at grade-level.

This is where “Coaching For Literacy” comes in. It all started as a senior project by two Memphis University School students.

Jonathan Wilfong and Andrew Renshaw developed the idea from seeing firsthand how the inability to read can impact a child’s life. The aim is to use sports to raise awareness.

Since 2013, the nonprofit has used sports to shed light on literacy.

Executive director Ryan Viner said the mission is two-fold.

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“One, connect every American to the issue of literacy. Two, give every child the fundamental skill of literacy in our country,” said Viner.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 64 percent of fourth graders nationwide are not reading at grade level. Just 25 percent of Shelby County School students in grades three to five are at grade level.

Coaching for Literacy has partnered with over 50 college basketball programs, including the University of Memphis and Tennessee.

Each team hosts “Fight for Literacy” games, where fans are invited to donate for every assist made.

One hundred percent of funds raised stay in the community for literacy projects. Over $200,000 has been invested, with Memphis raising $16,000 last season.

Viner said a big hurdle is awareness within society.

“The issue has never affected them personally, nor will it every affect them in the future. And so, it's hard for the majority of Americans to connect to the issue in a real way,” said Viner.