Books and Basketball: Teaching kids how to win, both on and off the court

| Sports Reporter

When he received a grant from the Community Service Office in the fall of 2008, senior Paul Johannet couldn’t have imagined that Books and Basketball would grow into the program that it is today.

Johannet’s idea was to start an organization that would help kids in the local area with their academic studies. The program, which began with just five tutors three years ago and 18 at the beginning of this semester now has 85 tutors across all classes.

Books and Basketball, a nonprofit organization that travels to several schools around the St. Louis area to help tutor and play recreational games with students, has become extremely popular within the Washington University community.

“It’s an incredibly sustainable program that has tremendous support from the entire student body,” Johannet said. “It’s great to see so many people involved.”

Geared toward providing an academic and fun experience for local youth, Books and Basketball sponsors after school programs at several schools, including Ford and Mullanphy elementary schools. A typical day includes 45 minutes in which tutors help the students with either homework or school-coordinated activities, followed by recreational time in the gym where they play games such as basketball, capture the flag or freeze tag.

“The benefits of gym time carry into the tutoring portion, in which the positive relationships formed help to maintain a level of respect that contributes to successful learning and homework completion,” said junior Emma Liss, a Books and Basketball volunteer.

Books and Basketball has been particularly proud of the tutors’ commitments. Johannet feels that it really makes a positive impact on the kids when they see a familiar face every week instead of a different tutor. Seeing the same person can develop a genuine connection between mentor and student.

“The mixture of tutoring with playtime really helps us foster relationships with these kids that would be impossible if we didn’t spend time with them outside and in the gym,” junior Kate Benedict said.

The growth of Books and Basketball can also be seen in the numerous ways other organizations within the Wash. U. community have been willing to help. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have put on clinics for the kids, and the sorority Pi Beta Phi has incorporated the organization into its Champions are Readers program by donating books and choosing occasional newspaper articles for the students to read.

In addition, Books and Basketball recently began working with the Linus Foundation. According to Liss, that partnership will provide important opportunities. The proceeds of Ballin’ with Linus, the fall gala organized by the Linus Foundation in St. Louis, will benefit Books and Basketball. The gala begins at 9 p.m. tonight at the Lumen: St. Louis.

“Our collaboration with the Linus Foundation also provides great opportunities for the future of Books and Basketball,” Liss said. “Their contributions will help us provide exciting tools and experiences for the kids we work with, including school supplies, end-of-the-year parties, and field trips to Wash. U. and elsewhere.”