Eastern Mennonite University student-athlete D.J. Hill works a young reader at Waterman Elementary School in Harrisonburg. The Reading Royals program, started by head coach Melvin Felix, brings members of the men's basketball team into 11 classrooms to work on literacy skills with students every other week. (Photos by Bob Adamek/Harrisonburg City Public Schools)

Royals basketball players bring smiles to Waterman readers

You might think college students, and especially busy athletes, would groan at the prospect of their coach assigning additional reading. Not so for this year’s EMU Runnin’ Royals men’s basketball team.

In addition to classwork, practices and game preparation, the teammates make the short trek to read with Waterman Elementary School students every two weeks. They work with kindergarteners through fourth graders in 11 different classrooms.

Tim Jones interacts with a young reader at Waterman Elementary School. The book is one of the “Don’t Let the Pigeon” series (on the pages shown here, the warning relates to the danger of the pigeon driving a bus).

“It sure puts smiles on their faces to see you there,” says Tim Jones, a junior business administration major from Forestville, Maryland. “I think it really shows the kids that people outside their school care about them and they know that. They tell us they’re excited for us to come.”

In teacher Lauren Smith’s first-grade classroom, Jones takes one of four stations. Students rotate at 15-minute intervals, so he eventually sees all the students in the class. For free reading time, Jones says there’s “a bunch of books to pick from, but most of the time, they all pick the same book to read.” Before winter break, that meant Jones had nearly memorized the popular choice, No, David!, by David Shannon, about a little boy who is always breaking the rules. 

Jones says his favorite book growing up was the Dr. Seuss classic, Green Eggs and Ham.

Kobi Alexander remembers devouring Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of His Dream, co-authored by the basketball star’s mother, Deloris, and sister Roslyn.

Trajon Brown with a young reader (and many options to delve into on the left).

“It’s about hard work and staying dedicated to your goals,” Alexander said of the book’s memorable themes. He thinks reading with kids shows that he values reading himself, especially for the way it grows one’s vocabulary and “allows you to see things from multiple perspectives.”

Alexander, a sophomore business administration major from Madison, Virginia, has worked with children on the basketball court but not in the classroom. “This is all about helping people and caring for people and inspiring them,” he said. “It’s been a blessing to play college basketball so giving back to the community and putting smiles on kids’ faces is really rewarding.”

For the record, the popular book among his students, at least in December, was any choice from a series involving Elephant and Piggie.

The Reading Royals program began this year under head coach Melvin Felix, who spent time at Waterman Elementary School while earning his master’s degree. There, he received a warm reception from administrators, teachers and students. 

“They were excited to see males as role models, and that was something I wanted my student-athletes to experience,” Felix said. “My main goal is to have them understand they are role models, even if they think they’re not or if they have no experience in that role. Kids will look up to them and I wanted my guys to experience that and have a positive influence in our community.”

Chris Simmons with a group of attentive readers.

The relationship has grown beyond reading time, with the EMU student-athletes being invited to class celebrations and Waterman students coming to home games to see their Reading Royals in action.

“It’s really grown into what I hoped it would be, so I hope we can continue it,” Felix said.

In his spare time, Felix reads books about basketball, lately Toughness by Jay Bilas; The Last Season by Phil Jackson; and The Miracle of St. Anthony’s: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty, by Adrian Wojnarowski.

And assistant coach Bill Hale? He’s dipping into Scrimmage For War: A Story of Pearl Harbor, Football, and World War II, by Bill McWilliams.

Discussion on “Royals basketball players bring smiles to Waterman readers

  1. This is just exceptional! I am so proud of Coach Felix for initiating and implementing this program!

  2. They are a great group of young men and coaches! They work hard on and off of the court. It’s nice to see them be a blessing to the children in their community. Keep up the great job and hard work!

  3. I’m so proud that we have coaches at EMU that care about students and our community. This experience is beneficial for all involved. It is appreciated that Coach Felix can see “beyond the court” and wants our students to be strong men and see ways they can make a difference.

  4. Applause for all the men who are participating. It’s so important for kids to learn to enjoy reading at a young age. It opens all of life to them.

  5. Thank you Coach Felix for not only blessing the Waterman children, but giving the young men on your team a chance to see how they can influence others which in turn builds their self esteem! Well Done!!

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