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Sports Stars Making a Social Impact: “How I Engaged The NFL to Help Tackle Reading” With Kathryn Starke & Edward Sylvan

This philanthropic day provides an opportunity for elementary schools around the country to receive the gift of reading from an NFL team or athlete in their community. NFL athletes, alumni, coaches, and staff coast to coast visit a local elementary school to read to elementary school students for a day. Some teams invite elementary schools […]


This philanthropic day provides an opportunity for elementary schools around the country to receive the gift of reading from an NFL team or athlete in their community. NFL athletes, alumni, coaches, and staff coast to coast visit a local elementary school to read to elementary school students for a day. Some teams invite elementary schools to their stadiums or training facilities, and some athletes have added special treats to the day like eating lunch with the students. Books are donated to every team or professional athlete participating to give as a gift to the school on Tackle Reading day to add to their school library collection. Public education is always in need of extra funding and more valuable experiences for their students. Tackle Reading day uses sports, specifically football, to address the importance of literacy education.


As a part of my series about sports stars who are making a social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing. Kathryn Starke. Kathryn is a national urban literacy consultant, former elementary school teacher, author, and the founder of Creative Minds Publications, LLC, a global reading educational company. Starke is the creator of Tackle Reading, a book and educational campaign that promotes a love of literacy with a passion for football for readers of all ages. This March 1, 2019, kicks off the third annual Tackle Reading day supported by the NFL.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

By the time I was five-years-old, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I played school every afternoon after spending a full day as an elementary school student myself. I earned a degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in literacy and culture to become a reading specialist. I felt like I could make a bigger impact beyond just one classroom or school. Therefore, I started my educational business to write, publish, and market my first children’s book, Amy’s Travels, to help teach the seven continents.

I presented in literacy and educational events around Virginia and Washington, DC and had the honor of being a guest author for a reading day at FedEx Field hosted by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation alongside some Redskins players. When the Washington Redskins moved their training camp to Richmond, the foundation contacted me to help create a summer reading program, in which the organization provided motivational prizes and incentives, including phone calls from athletes encouraging children to read daily. The K-5 students were so motivated and excited about reading, even the reluctant readers, whom are often young boys, it sparked the idea to write Tackle Reading.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I have been so overwhelmed by the support of our national educational initiative. The idea for Tackle Reading day came about through a conversation with fellow author, Michelle Staubach Grimes. Her dad, legendary quarterback, Roger Staubach, was one of our guest readers for the inaugural event. We continue to add NFL athletes, alumni, and teams to our Tackle Reading day every March. I’ve seen first-hand how sports can be a huge, positive motivator. I am now being contacted by basketball players, soccer players, and lacrosse players wanting to be involved in this mission.

I have also learned that so many athletes have written children’s books; this is an excellent match to Tackle Reading day. Many of our athlete readers are also authors excited to share their book with students. Last March, we had an author pair participate who wrote an adorable book about dogs playing baseball; the authors just happen to be the parents of the great Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.

What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?

I read all of the time and can’t express how important it is to be informed in all aspects of business. I was given a subscription to Forbes magazine from my dad, and it was the best gift. Determination and persistence are key. Not everyone is going to see the vision you have, but if you believe in something, it’s up to you to make it happen. Create an idea and take the necessary steps for the idea to come to fruition; people can’t deny results.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

I’m very grateful for someone from my hometown named Ken; he was a passionate, energetic man who started a nonprofit to support urban education. He was the first person to take a chance on me as a new children’s author and organized my first K-5 school assembly to share my book to a packed auditorium one December. Every child received a gift-wrapped children’s book to take home. After just a few special events together, he became very sick but managed to send me a text telling me how proud he was of me and how I was going to do great things in education. Sadly, Ken died before Tackle Reading was developed. His wife wrote an inspirational story for the book to honor him.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

I am so excited to have the support of the NFL for the third annual Tackle Reading day. This philanthropic day provides an opportunity for elementary schools around the country to receive the gift of reading from an NFL team or athlete in their community. NFL athletes, alumni, coaches, and staff coast to coast visit a local elementary school to read to elementary school students for a day.

Some teams invite elementary schools to their stadiums or training facilities, and some athletes have added special treats to the day like eating lunch with the students. Books are donated to every team or professional athlete participating to give as a gift to the school on Tackle Reading day to add to their school library collection. Public education is always in need of extra funding and more valuable experiences for their students. Tackle Reading day uses sports, specifically football, to address the importance of literacy education.

What methods are you using to most effectively share your cause with the world?

As an educator and author, writing articles and guest blog posts as well as speaking to companies, organization, schools, and educational conferences/events have really enabled me to share our cause with a greater audience. Anyone in education, corporate America, and of course the sports industry can participate.

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

I started my educational career fifteen years ago as a first and second grade teacher in an inner-city elementary school in Richmond, Virginia. I realized very quickly that most of the students in my class read significantly below grade level, which is not a unique problem to Richmond. Over 60% of nine-year-old children (80% of nine-year-old children in low income areas) around the country cannot read. I travel across the country helping elementary schools achieve literacy success; there is much work to be done.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

Last March, we celebrated the 2nd annual event in Philadelphia, the city of the Superbowl champions. Our Tackle Reading team consisting of NFL athletes, the authors of Beyond the Laces, educational leaders, and sponsors who purchased books to give to every classroom in the elementary school. After a morning assembly with the authors, classroom visits from the athletes reading to the children, a private lunch with the preschoolers and an athlete, and giveaways including baseball cards and footballs, the principal of the elementary school approached us in tears. He explained that in all of his years at the school, no one group of people had ever done so much for his students as teachers as we did that day. It’s because of the letters from schools and NFL teams, tears of joy from teachers and educational leaders, and excitement on the children’s faces that we continue to Tackle Reading across America.

With Dion Foxx former linebacker with the Washington Redskins

What are your 3 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. I wish someone gave me a list of every NFL team or individual player that has a foundation or commitment to education. I know I have not connected with all of them yet, and there is a special place on the Tackle Reading team to highlight their efforts while supporting this mission. Each March, thanks to #TackleReading trending on social media, I usually receive a message from an NFL playing wanting to connect.

2. Teaching is traditionally a female driven industry. I wish that someone had told me how many females also happen to be football fans. It’s the same thing with parents; we often talk to moms about reading and school concerns, but plenty of dads want to know how to support their children’s educational career. I have as many fathers thanking me for writing an engaging and motivational book to help them as I have teachers and female football fans requesting the book for their school book club.

3. Sports teams and organizations obtain sponsorship easily, which is never the case in public education. So many schools want to purchase Tackle Reading for their families or teachers to host a Tackle Reading event with authors and athletes throughout the school year and don’t have the budget to do so. I would love to see how we can obtain sponsorship more easily in education to help all of these schools tackle reading.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We have so much work to do in literacy education in our country, and Tackle Reading is one way that so many people can get involved to make an impact in the lives of our children, the future. In addition to the one special day, I would love for Tackle Reading to become a movement to address the need for quality reading education in schools across the country. Thanks to the incredible support of current NFL teams and alum and even legendary athletes and coaches including Roger Staubach and Coach Bobby Ross, we can create awareness and make this happen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

It definitely has to have a football connection for me, and it’s from Vince Lombardi. 


 “Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

In education, a school is only as great as their teachers and leadership. When I’m helping a challenge schools achieve literacy success, it only happens when every teacher in every grade is giving their all. I’ve had the great privilege of working with elementary schools across the country that understand this. Tackle Reading continues to grow, expand, and make an impact in our society because of the commitment of athletes, schools, cities, and business leaders, teachers, and so many people coming together to make a difference in literacy.

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