The initial idea for the program was rooted in two commitments that Wendell Byrd emphasized in his career of over thirty years as teacher and coach: first, his work as an elementary school teacher, focusing on reading as the key to empowering students, and second, his yearly commitment to involving his basketball players in community service as a means of developing character and responsibility.
In 2003, the South Lakes High School boys’ basketball program, with financial support from the Colburn Family Foundation, developed a reading and mentoring program that brought together ninety students under the guidance of Coach Byrd, partnering with neighboring Terraset Elementary School in Reston, Virginia.
Because of the success, good will, and encouragement achieved in the first two years, Coach Byrd reached out to the broader community of Northern Virginia to share our model. Since then, we developed a partnership with Fairfax County’s community centers; and we have added both boys’ and girls’ programs including basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, and football as well as a cheerleading and National Honor Society program. Last year, we enlisted thirty-nine athletic teams from twenty-six high schools across eight counties to partner with our young students in twenty-six elementary schools and six community centers, growing to a total 1,058 high school and elementary students. Next year, we will be extending our program for the first time out of the Washington, DC metro area.