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SMU Player Scores Off Court With "Coaching For Literacy"

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - SMU sophomore walk-on Jonathan Wilfong calls it the highlight of his season, a late game slam dunk last month that rocked Moody Coliseum.

"You would have thought it was the 1st white dunk in the history of basketball," Wilfong said.

So, white men can jump?

"They can a little bit."

"He can play," said SMU Head Coach Larry Brown, "but he's also an unbelievable teammate and an unbelievable roe model."

Wilfong's been an unbelievable teammate and role model since at least the 8th grade.  That's when, while playing AAU basketball in Memphis, Jonathan and his family noticed something about a teammate.

"My parents realized he couldn't read," Wilfong said.  "We were in the 8th grade, and he was reading at a 3rd grade level."

"Jonathan's dad asked the kid to read a Sports Illustrated," Brown said, "and he couldn't do it."

That kid, Frank Herron, was placed in a literacy program, and by his senior year in high school, he was able to sign a football scholarship with LSU.  In September, Herron was honored as LSU's Student Athlete of the Month.

"He said, 'Honestly, I thought I'd be like my brother and work at McDonalds.'  Instead, he's now going to have a college degree," Wilfong said.

Frank Herron's story motivated Wilfong to start a non-profit program called Coaching for Literacy.

Wilfong said, "What if we harness the power that sports provide and use that to raise awareness and provide financial support."

Brown says the Mustangs have a player on their current team who was reading at a 7th or 8th grade level, and through about a nine month literacy program, he is already up to a 12th grade reading level.

With the full support of Brown, SMU has now joined the Coaching for Literacy program.  At a recent home game, an anonymous donor provided the funding, and Erin Carter and Esmerelda Ortiz of SMU's BUDD Center were assistant coaches for a day.  The Coaching for Literacy assistant coach program allows donors to participate in all the team's game day activities, which includes gaining access inside the Mustang locker room.

"The BUDD center is focused on West Dallas, a program called The School Zone," said Erin Crosby, Director of Operations of The BUDD Center.  "There are so many kids who can't read by third grade."

Wilfong said, "We want to unify literacy work across the country because there are so many people doing incredible work."

"They ought to build a statue for this kid," Brown said.  "It's just the beginning of something that's going to be really meaningful."

If you think last month's highlight reel dunk was meaningful for a walkon, imagine the reaction if Jonathan Wilfong can slam dunk illiteracy.

"So many kids that play on the college level are challenged academically," Brown said.  "If you can read, you can be successful, and this kid is going to have an impact on our sport way beyond what he believes."

To donate to the non-profit, Click here

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