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Reading is the favorite pastime of Ohio State players

Reading is the favorite pastime of Ohio State players

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The 2nd & 7 Foundation will be the beneficiary of the charitable giving from Restaurant Week, which has Revolution Mortage as its title sponsor.

Columbus nonprofit 2nd & 7 inspires readers around the country

By Zak Kolesar

No matter who is calling the plays for the Ohio State University football team, they’ve all carried the tradition of coach Woody Hayes’s famous Buckeye slogan.

And that’s both on and off the field. 

“One of the great things we had was the ability to pay it forward; that’s a mantra Woody Hayes started and it’s carried through ever since,” said former Buckeye linebacker Ryan Miller.

Miller is one of three co-founders of the 2nd & 7 Foundation, a nonprofit organization now in its 21st year. Along with Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and University of Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, both former Buckeyes, the three became inspired to launch 2nd & 7 in 1999 based on their previous philanthropic experiences as student-athletes.

Missing the ability to “pay it forward” to the Columbus community that had provided them with reciprocal love, Miller, Vrabel, and Fickell got together to brainstorm ways on how they could continue to positively influence Buckeye country. After launching a fundraiser football camp that summer, 2nd & 7 was able to raise enough money to buy books and hand them out to seven different second-grade classrooms. Being able to get a program up and running in just three years after wearing Scarlet & Gray is a direct effect of Miller’s experience volunteering as a student-athlete. 

“The kids look at you like you were a superhero dropped in from outer space,” said Miller. “They were just over the moon excited about you being there and really interested in your love of reading.”

Sure, there are plenty of ways that Buckeyes help out the Columbus community and beyond, but Miller cannot stress the importance of getting books into and preaching literacy at grade schools. Through the 2nd & 7 Foundation, they want to not only read to students but put a book in their hands to take home.

Over the years the organization has continued to incrementally grow, eventually leading to OSU athletic director Gene Smith issuing a departmental initiative for Buckeyes to read to students at Columbus City Schools. To date, Miller and his team have been able to read and give out over 500,000 books. The program, which has expanded well outside the reach of Columbus, can be found in 27 states and in over 100 universities.

“[Reading is] the foundation of everything we do in society,” said Miller. “To give it a sports analogy, on the football field one of the crucial fundamental elements is your ability to run. If you can’t run, you can’t play football. In life, if you can’t read, it makes everything more difficult.”

Although the effects may not seem immediate, over the years Miller has observed just how detrimental illiteracy can be on a child’s life. He mentioned that children not at an appropriate reading level by fourth grade have a greater chance of not finishing high school. Those who don’t earn a high school degree are then more likely to commit a crime, and so on.

“If we can change a generation of readers, in our mind we can create a generation of leaders,” said Miller. 

Miller, who has children ages 11, 8, and 5, has always stressed the importance of reading in his household—and the coronavirus pandemic made even more time for it. The pandemic has also shown that there are a lot of kids in various Columbus communities without access to the online component of reading. Although 2nd & 7 material is available online through its website and student-athletes have been popping into classrooms virtually, the organization has partnered with meal distribution centers during the pandemic to pass out Hog Mollies books —the official book series of 2nd & 7—to area youth.   

Finding that it was more cost-effective to write their own stories, Miller and his team decided to create critters named after the nickname for OSU offensive linemen and created the Hog Mollies series. They were even given names such as Chic Harley and Howard Hopalong Cassidy and discussed challenging yet influential topics for second graders. Themes have included teamwork, diversity, and anti-bullying. 

This year’s theme happens to be right on target, as its focus is on mental health and how talking about feelings is OK.

“I couldn’t think of a better theme for this year,” said Miller.

With Franklin County schools announcing a virtual start to the 2020-21 school year, Miller and his team are seeing the continuation of virtual classes as a blessing in disguise. Through test runs at the end of last school year, Miller found that student-athletes can read to more schools and children than ever before. 

“Now, with online, [a group of student-athletes] can literally read to] all three of the same schools every single week and develop a little bit more of that relationship with that class,” said Miller.

Even in the eye of a pandemic, 2nd & 7 has found a way to continue to pay it forward. Whether it be Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, or John Cooper making the call, the Buckeyes have consistently bred a crop of philanthropists who, to this day, continue to make a difference.

“This is why people are attracted to [OSU] because they really are about the whole human being when they recruit them to play a sport at Ohio State,” said Miller. “It’s not just about tackles and touchdowns; it’s about giving you the opportunity to understand your value and your sphere of influence and that what you do beyond your four years in Ohio State will impact others, for the rest of their lives.”

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