Monday, February 16, 2009

Mike Vrabel: New England Patriots' Literary Light Makes Tackle at 2nd and 7

By William Russo

February 16, 2009

NFL players perform many charitable works as part of their daily lives in the public eye.

New England Patriots' outside linebacker Mike Vrabel belongs to that group. His versatility on the field may be secondary to his talent off the field throughout the year, not just during the football season.

Few fans may know that Vrabel has added “author” to his resume. How did this literary aspiration come about?

Together with two teammates (Ryan Miller and Luke Fickell) from his playing days at Ohio State University, Vrabel volunteered to read to second grade children as part of his student-athlete curriculum. As undergraduate football players, the three friends formed a unique bond at OSU, which carried over into daily life.

The three OSU graduates wanted to improve the literacy skills of all children. After college they went separate ways and to separate NFL teams, but a few years ago their bond grew with the creation of The Second and Seven Foundation.

Vrabel, Miller, and Fickell were delighted with the response to their efforts. They increased their efforts to visit second grade students who suffered the worst of socio-economic troubles and learning disabilities. A humble idea of reading to children grew into an adulthood mission.

The Second and Seven Foundation started by giving books to the second graders during their visits.

It was ambitious.

They wanted to give books to every child in every school in Ohio. The foundation name comes from their target group, second-graders, and the modest goal of meeting students each year in seven schools. The program has obviously grown much bigger.

This year Vrabel re-teamed with Miller and Fickell to go in a different direction: writing the children's books that they read to kids.

Who could have guessed their own creative energies might emerge as authors of a literary series?

They saw what topics and ideas fired up kids. It was an easy step to go the distance and write their own text to give to second-graders in all the Ohio schools.

That meant thousands of books and thousands of children. It was a costly endeavor for their giveaway program.

So, that’s how the series about the mythical creatures called the Hog Mollies was born.

Their joint efforts now have resulted in the first book of the series entitled The Hog Mollies and the Pickle Pie Party. Their publisher, Kendall Hunt, offers the book both in hardcover and softback. Vrabel, Miller, and Fickell want to give away all 50,000 copies that have been published to children in schools they visit.

Those sold will have the profits re-applied to the mission of the foundation. Future books should be forthcoming annually by football authors.

The group wants to "help promote literacy nationwide,” including the ability to read, write, use computers, and evaluate the information and misinformation often found on the Internet.

The Second and Seven Foundation also hosts a football camp (its third year) near Columbus, Ohio, where Vrabel volunteers his time with his partners. Other events sponsored by the foundation include the annual Celebrity 8-ball Pool Tournament, which brings together NHL, NBA, and NFL stars.

So the next time you want some Vrabel memorabilia, try buying a copy of the Hog Mollies tale. Every New England Patriots fan ought to support Vrabel's efforts to improve the literacy skills of children.

Who knows? Vrabel's efforts may encourage the next generation of Bleacher Readers.

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