Eagles' Hicks and Sixers' Covington to 'draft' kids for book-writing contest

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Jordan Hicks of the Philadelphia Eagles is a celebrity judge for the National Youth Foundation's Student Books Scholars competition.

At Eakins Oval this week, NFL teams will be selecting from the ranks of hopeful young footballers. And over at the Free Library, they’re also having a draft -- of young writers.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jordan Hicks of the Eagles and Robert Covington of the 76ers, both big readers and writers, will be on hand at the Free Library to welcome interested kids to the first Writer’s Draft, part of the 2017 Student Book Scholars contest, sponsored by the National Youth Foundation. The so-called draft is a chance for kids, parents, and teachers to meet the two athletes, who will also be judges in the contest, and to learn how to enter.

Open to K-8 students in the greater Philadelphia area, the Student Book Scholars contest challenges teams of young writers to create books (20-30 pages of text and art) on an assigned theme. The theme this year is tolerance.

“People can write about tolerance in any manner that speaks to them,” says Sophia Hanson, director of the National Youth Foundation and creator of the contest.

“The main thing,” Covington says, “is how creative the kids are, what they make of the theme of tolerance, and how much they really put into it. I’m looking for people who go above and beyond, books that really catch my eye.”

Students must work in teams of three to 10 members and assign tasks among themselves. They have until July 30 to submit a complete book.

Rob Covington and student writers. Photo: Nick Brown.

Jordan and Covington will select two winning books that will be published and distributed to local libraries. Each member of the winning teams will receive two hardcover copies of their book, a $100 Barnes & Noble gift card, and an invitation to the book-launch event.

Winners will be announced on the foundation website on or before Oct. 27. The full contest rules are at nationalyouthfoundation.org/contest-rules-2.

Hicks says he was attracted to the event because “writing and reading were both important to me coming up. I’m interested to see how these kids use their writing to express their ideas on tolerance, which is so relevant right now.”

Covington says reading and writing have always helped him maintain a high level of motivation. Recently, the entire 76ers team was assigned a common book: The Champion’s Mind: How Great Champions Think, Train, and Thrive by sports psychologist Jim Afremow.

Literacy, Covington says, plays an important role for any athlete: “You have to understand the game not just from your viewpoint, but also in a different light, an outside point of view. You have to study a lot of different aspects.”

Hicks adds that “it’s a great idea to have kids come together and create these books, working as part of a team.”

The  program is Hanson's brainchild. She was an enthusiastic participant in the  Kids Are Authors program, sponsored by Scholastic Book Fairs, which from 1986 to 2016 awarded prizes for student-authored texts. She was involved in the project How to Move 100 Rhinos, a 2015 Kids Are Authors honorable mention book created by kindergarten and fourth-grade students at Greenwood Elementary School in Kennett Square; and in The Story of Doctor Velma, written by a team from a Boys’ Club in New Castle, Del.

But with the end of Kids Are Authors last year, Hanson sensed a need. “Kids love the competitive aspect of it,” she says. “You watch their confidence build through the process. It’s great to see them working with each other. They do everything, soup to nuts. They have to decide what to write about, who’s going to do the research, how they’re going to do the table of contents, who’s going to edit the text, who will envision the art, and who will draw it. Everyone contributes constantly.”

Hicks and Covington "were immediately enthusiastic” about giving their time to the Student Book Scholars contest, she says. “They have been literally awesome.”

“We’re starting locally,” says Hanson, “with an idea of maybe going national eventually.”