The Gazette-Mail Life & Style section probably isn’t the first place you’d go to look for an article on West Virginia University head football coach Neal Brown. Nor might you normally expect someone whose life is spent on the high-action, high-volume, rough-and-tumble gridiron to use some of his rare, spare moments advocating the glories of something as, well, quiet, as reading.
But Neal Brown is full of surprises.
“I come from a family of educators. Three of my four grandparents were educators, my wife’s parents are both educators, my dad and my mother were educators,” he said.
His mother was an elementary school librarian, and before their three kids came along, his wife, Brooke, taught kindergarten, first grade and second grade.
“So from as early as I can remember, I was always read to or asked to read,” he said.
Against that backdrop, he realized his role as the head of a Division I, Big 12 college team with hundreds of thousands of avid fans offered a platform and a voice for issues and projects he supports.
“As we’ve gotten in this role and Brooke and I try to figure out where we need to spend our time and our money, we keep coming back to education, and, at the beginning of the education is reading,” he said.
The folks at Read Aloud West Virginia couldn’t be more thrilled. Brown is the headliner for their annual fundraiser, Read-A-Palooza, at the University of Charleston’s Riggleman Rotunda Thursday.
“It would be safe to say we are over the moon that he’s coming,” said Mary Kay Bond, executive director of Read Aloud, “most importantly because of the message we heard him sending that he wanted his players to connect personally rather than through electronic devices, and a lot of what we do with Read Aloud is about that personal connection. We tell parents that a device has yet to be invented that is as effective connecting children to reading as a human being.”
If there’s any perception out there that athletics and academics don’t always go hand-in-hand, Brown says it’s actually just the opposite.
“You’re gonna see more often than not, the grade point average for a student athlete is higher than that of the general student body. And I think it goes back — and this is something I really believe in — if you’re a high achiever, you’re a high achiever in all things that you do, whether it’s academics, athletics or whatever community service,” he said.
“If you’re a high achiever, you’re usually a high achiever across the board. So I think in athletics a lot you have a lot of high achievers, and high achievers want to do the best in anything that they take part in.”
The message is especially important for young boys, he said, who might not think reading is the coolest thing to do. And for those who dream of a career playing football? It’s crucial, the coach said.
“If you want to be an NFL football player, there’s a natural progression you have to go through. You have to be a high school football player. To be eligible to play high school football, you’ve got to maintain quality grades. And then you’ve got to go on to be a collegiate football player, so you’ve got to have a certain grade point average, you’ve got to have a certain test score, to get in, which is only going to be achieved through hard work and studying.”
“And then when you get into your collegiate football players, you’ve got to maintain a certain grade point average, you’ve got to maintain progress toward a degree,” Brown said. “Every NFL scout that comes through here. Couple of questions. One of them is, how did they do their schoolwork? Academics is so critical in your development if you want to be an NFL player. And I think one of the best ways to educate yourself and to continue to grow and develop your own mind is to read.”