Write on Sports 7th Anniversary Gala Honors Justin Tuck and Peter King

Justin Tuck accepts his Literacy Champion award from MSU School of Education dean Dr. Ada Beth Cutler

Justin Tuck, who founded his R.U.S.H. for Literacy foundation four years ago, prefers not to quantify his work in the community. Instead, the Giants star defensive end sees the ripple effect that is created by instilling a love for reading and writing to even a single child.

“If you change a kid, you can change a community,” Tuck said. “If you change a community, you can change a culture. If you change a culture, you can change a generation. That’s something that I’m passionate about.”

And it’s why Tuck, who recently became a two-time Super Bowl champion, was honored at Thursday night’s Write on Sports 7th Anniversary Gala. Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King, a member of the Write on Sports Board of Trustees, was also recognized, both for their work to support youth literacy. Kim Jones, who formerly covered the Yankees for the YES Network and joined the NFL Network this spring, was the emcee.

Founded in 2006 by former sports journalist Byron Yake, Write on Sports is an alternative education program that aims to develop a love of writing in middle school kids — by tapping into their love of sports. The kids interview athletes and research ideas, creating articles, blogs and broadcast pieces just like professional journalists.

About 350 kids from Newark, Montclair and the West Orange areas have completed Write on Sports summer camps and after-school workshops. The program will expand to Hawthorne this summer.

Both Tuck and King understand firsthand the importance of helping kids learn to love reading and writing.

Tuck credited his parents — particularly his father, who supported their family in a small town in Alabama by working at a textile mill — for teaching him the importance of helping others. His R.U.S.H. for Literacy foundation, co-founded with his wife, Lauran, raises funds and donates reading materials to kids in the New York and central Alabama areas.

Peter King talks with West Orange students Kristie Keleshian, Jude Poku, Nick Keleshian, Joel Poku, Hamza Khan and Angeli Pozzoli before the Write on Sports dinner. The students all have attended one or more Write on Sports camps.

King, an author of five books and a respected NFL writer, said he owes his career to his mother and her unfailing emphasis on reading and writing. By middle school, he knew he wanted to be a writer. He called Write on Sports “one of the greatest safety nets I’ve ever seen in my life,” for kids who don’t grow up with the same kind of encouragement he was lucky to receive.

“I think it’s hard for kids to understand that if they don’t learn how to read and write, they are going to be left by the wayside for the rest of their lives, and that’s why this program is so important,” King said.

At last week’s dinner event at the Orange Lawn Tennis Club in South Orange, the work of Write on Sports students was showcased. One student, Kevin Lopez, taped a one-on-one interview with Devils captain Zach Parise during a week before the regular hockey season ended – a coveted interview these days, with the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Ann Frechette, the mother of a Write on Sports student, also shared a powerful story about her son, Zach, who went from hating writing and earning Ds in English class, to being a straight A student in Language Arts at West Orange High School. The light bulb went on, she said, at a Write on Sports camp.

What’s next for the program? That was a theme last night as well. Tuck said he hopes to collaborate with Write on Sports in the future, joining forces in the mission to build youth literacy.

“It’s all of us getting involved; it’s about ways where we can work together and have synergy,” Tuck said. “These kids are going to be running the world, and I want to make sure that they have every attribute so that when I’m 65 and gray, I can say, ‘They’re doing a great job of it.’ ”

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