How two HS kids are using college basketball to help fight illiteracy

Jonathan Wilfong has two educated parents who have done well for themselves. So he was born into a nice life, and he lives a nice life. But he's also a high school basketball player in Memphis who's competed on the AAU circuit with less fortunate kids, and that reality has exposed Wilfong to a world he might've otherwise never knew existed, which led him to a project he absolutely never would've otherwise undertaken.

"I had an AAU teammate when I was 14, and when we went to restaurants he would always order exactly what I ordered or something off a picture," is how Wilfong started the story. "So my dad got curious -- wondering if he could read."

Turned out, the kid could not.

The Wilfong family mentored him, helped him get into a reading program, and now that same kid who once ordered food by pointing at pictures is set to enroll in college this fall on an athletic scholarship. Is he a straight-A student? No. But he can read. And he's going to college for free. And he's among the reasons Wilfong and a friend, Andrew Renshaw, decided to start the Coaching for Literacy program with a goal of raising "as much as $50,000 to help 50 motivated but underprivileged students improve their ability to read at their age appropriate grade level."

"I've had experiences with friends where the ability to read changed their lives forever," Wilfong said. "Just having an education can be a way out of poverty."

So why not help, if you can?

That's the question Wilfong and Renshaw are asking college basketball coaches and fans with their program that allows folks to get as close to the game as possible while throwing money at a good cause. The setup is simple: Wilfong and Renshaw get coaches to agree to let a fan or two attend their teams' shootarounds and pregame meals, be in the locker rooms before games, sit behind the bench during games, and attend the postgame press conferences. Then they put that experience up for auction with all proceeds going to different foundations that fight illiteracy among children.

Wilfong and Renshaw have already auctioned off a seat on the Memphis bench for a game. They subsequently convinced Leonard Hamilton to let them auction a seat for Florida State's game with Duke on Saturday, convinced Kevin Stallings to let them auction a seat for Vanderbilt's game with Arkansas on Feb. 9, convinced Tommy Amakar to let them auction a seat for Harvard's game with Princeton on Feb. 16. And they're now trying to add more in this nice endeavor that's creating unique experiences for college basketball fans with money and important opportunities for children without much.

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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