"Today a Reader...Tomorrow a Leader" ~ Margaret Fuller
I remember so vividly how my first grade teacher used to assemble the whole class in the reading circle at the back of our room at Pleasant Street School. We'd all carry our little wooden chairs to the rear of the classroom and place them in a circle underneath a big bulletin board decorated with brightly colored construction paper. These were the days before some unnerved "teaching professional" placed tennis balls on the leg of each chair, so each seat made a loud clunk, followed by a screech as it was pushed into position 'round the reading circle.
Ten or twelve of us, at a variety of different reading levels, would sit around the slightly, misshapened circle and learn of the escapades of Dick and Jane, or Horton and his Who or occasionally read rhymes about Mush and Brush and Hush.
To the right of our non-exclusive group sat John Higgins.
John was a couple years older than the rest of us and sat in a small rocking chair with a picture book in his hand. He rarely looked at the book but instead looked out the window and rocked. Every few minutes he would think of something to do that disrupted our group. Our teacher would look over at John and bring her hands to her lips, shoosh John and encourage him to look at his picture book.
I always wondered why John didn't want to read with us, but it never even crossed my little six-year-old mind that maybe he couldn't read.
As the school years passed, most of us lost track of John as he seemed to lag behind us in school. When I was in fifth grade, John was in third. When I was in eighth, I heard he was in fifth and when I became a graduate of high school, I heard that John dropped out of the eighth grade.
I often wonder what John is doing today.
For 13 seasons, All-Pro linebacker, Karl Mecklenburg was a key ingredient in the Orange Crush defense of the NFL's Denver Broncos. Told that he was too slow, too stiff and too small to become a successful football player at any level, Mecklenburg used his intelligence, his diligence and his refusal to accept defeat on his way to becoming a top NFL linebacker.
The six time Pro Bowler became a key piece of the Broncos' Super Bowl teams of the 1980s despite being drafted in the 12th round with the 310th pick in the draft, clearly showing that he could overcome his other God-given limitations.
Since his retirement from football in 1994 due to injury, "The Albino Rhino" has spent the majority of his time as a motivational speaker and with ongoing charity involvement, including his own REACH Foundation, an acronym for "Rewarding Experiences for All Children."
Mecklenburg's commitment to education is discussed in detail between the covers of his recently released book, "Heart of the Student Athlete," where he shares his advice to young athletes, families and coaches regarding the balance necessary in becoming a successful student and a successful athlete. The book has recently been nominated in two categories as a Mensa Smart Book Lovers 2010 Sharp Writ Book Award semifinalist.
It is apparent that these days, rather than piling up statistics regarding sacks, fumble recoveries and interceptions, Mecklenburg and the REACH Foundation keep track of statistics which have a much larger impact on our the future of America's youth.
"Ninety percent of high school drop outs nationally are functionally illiterate. The graduation rate at Denver Public Schools is 49%", explains Mecklenburg, whose three children, Luke, Jeff, and Kelsey all attended Community School for the Gifted. "REACH is assisting DPS in raising that graduation rate by getting kids excited about reading at an early age."
It is the mission of REACH to provide Denver area children and youth with educational opportunities and resources needed to excel in the classroom and in life. The Foundation's interactive programs and events are designed to help build a strong foundation through education and outdoor experiences.
"We have found that we can increase out-of-class reading by incentivizing elementary school children to read through competition and reward," he said. "When they REACH their reading goals they earn a Cici’s Pizza certificate."
Each year, the top readers in REACH's programs are invited to a Top Reader's Luncheon at Denver's Invesco Field. Of course, Mecklenburg attends the luncheon.
Mecklenburg's voice filled with enthusiasm as he described this year's event. "This year we had about 300 attendees at the Top Reader’s Luncheon at Invesco Field. The top three readers from each school were honored with certificates, goody bags and Tattered Cover book gift certificates while Northwestern Mutual engraved the top reader from each school’s name on a plaque to be displayed at their school," he said. "The top 15 teachers in the program were also honored with gift bags and certificates for brunch at the Brown Palace."
Mecklenburg shared an extra special moment that occurred at last year's award luncheon. "I met a young family whose daughter was in our program. Her parents were very proud of her explaining that she had started the school year reading two levels below grade level and was now above grade level," he said.
"She had been challenged to compete by the REACH for a Book Program and was now being honored as the top reader in her school."
"My mission as a speaker and author is to inspire long term positive change in teams and individuals," added Mecklenburg. "The future possibilities in life are limitless for readers. They are extremely limited for those who can’t read."
Reach Foundation is managed completely by volunteers as each dollar raised goes to funding one of REACH's valuable programs.
"My day to day involvement in REACH is comprised of communication with Pam (Krotchko), our director, and REACH’s great board of directors. I also attend monthly board meetings, special events, as well as, meetings with our Denver Public Schools liaison, Karen and meetings with potential and acting partners and sponsors."
REACH holds several large fundraising events for their programs. "We had a poker night the past couple of years, which has been great fun and helped support REACH," he said. "We play Texas Hold 'em with celebrities at each table and have a silent auction.
REACH's Annual Golf Tournament will be held on June 28, 2010 at the Green Valley Ranch Golf Resort in Denver, and will feature a wide variety of sports celebrities golfing on one of Colorado's most picturesque courses.
"This is our 5th year and Green Valley Ranch has done a great job hosting our tournament. Each year we have a great support from many sports celebrities including NFL alumni, former NBA players, boxers and more. Depending on your level of sponsorship you will have a celebrity fifth to add to your foursome."
The event will also include lunch and a silent auction following the scramble tournament. This years celebrities involved include the following:
- Randy Rich Broncos alumnus and K-Love Radio VP
- Mike Novak Broncos alumnus and K-Love Radio President
- John Grant Broncos alumnus
- Wade Manning Broncos alumnus
- Haven Moses Broncos alumnus
- Ron Egloff Broncos alumnus
- Jerry Strum Broncos alumnus
- Frank Robinson Broncos alumnus
- DaVarryl Williamson Boxer
- Lane Maeurer Nuggets alumnus
- Jamamhl Mosley Nuggets player/asst coach
- Kyle Keefe Altitude Sports
- Scott Hastings Nuggets alumni/broadcaster
- Marc Moser Avalanche Broadcaster
- Walt Davis Nuggets alumnus
- Chad Iske Asst Nuggets Coach
- Mark Randal Nuggets alumnus
Sponsors at this year's REACH Golf Tournament include Verizon, ViaWest, Inc., Northwestern Mutual-Denver, TriNet, Reilly Pozner Law Firm, Statera, DataVail, FirstBank, Quantix Inc., MCPN, Interurban, Computer Associates and Stratvia.
Mecklenburg is very excited about this year's event and encourages anyone interested in playing to contact Administrative Director, Pam Krotchko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I am not a very good golfer," explains Mecklenburg. "I may be able to contribute to my team with occasional long drives and putts. With the scramble format everyone is able to contribute."
Karl Mecklenburg's REACH Foundation invites children to:
- REACH out to family and friends for love and support
- REACH within themselves to dream of a bright future
- And REACH for the stars and achieve their dreams!
Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for Bleacher Report and Sports, Then and Now , he can be reached for hire or comment at email@example.com. He performs publicity duties for the Father/Son Marathon team, Team Hoyt , and major league baseball pitcher, Jason Grilli .