Our Founders

Acting for the Worth of Others

In 12th grade, Memphis University School (Memphis, Tennessee) faculty member Spencer Reese challenged his students to make a difference. Two students took that call to heart – Andrew Renshaw and Jonathan Wilfong (class of 2013).

From past family experiences, both knew all too well the problem of illiteracy in our communities, especially in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. With their first-hand knowledge of the problems caused by illiteracy they decided to offer a solution, the ideas formulated at this time were the origins of Coaching for Literacy. On August 28, 2013, the pair officially formed Coaching for Literacy.

Coaching for Literacy Founders: Jonathan Wilfong (left) and Andrew Renshaw (right) speaking at Revitalizing Literacy Through Sports 2016 - A Conversation With Hugh Freeze

Coaching for Literacy Founders: Jonathan Wilfong (left) and Andrew Renshaw (right) speaking at Revitalizing Literacy Through Sports 2016 - A Conversation With Hugh Freeze

The program has made a positive impact in its short history – raising awareness about the issue of illiteracy and gathering financial support for effective literacy programs both in Memphis, Tennessee and nationwide. Coaching for Literacy aims to ensure that every child has the opportunity to determine their future, that they are not locked in their beginnings and have a say in their endings. We firmly believe that every individual possesses inerrant dignity and worth; thus, we strive to ensure individuals are functionally literate. Coaching for Literacy partners with athletic programs and literacy programs through its Assistant Coach Program to achieve this aim.

The premise of Coaching for Literacy’s Assistant Coach Program is simple: an individual or corporate sponsor provides financial support to literacy efforts and in exchange gets to be an “Assistant Coach” during a sporting event. Access to the home team locker room prior to the game, premium seating, autographed memorabilia, a picture with the head coach, school specific apparel provided by CFL partner Peter Millar, and admittance to the postgame press conference are perks that typically constitute the “Assistant Coach” experience. Proceeds raised from the event go towards funding early intervention literacy initiatives local to the partnering athletic program and Coaching for Literacy’s Memphis-based literacy partners: Memphis Teacher Residency and Streets Ministries.

In closing, the problem of illiteracy is colossal and must be addressed. Coaching for Literacy relies on partnering with collegiate and professional sports teams for the program to succeed and give the opportunity of success to children struggling with illiteracy. It is an excellent opportunity for sports teams to enrich their communities and offer fans a unique game-day experience.


More Success Stories and Less Statistics

Your story defines who you are, who you want to become and the story you want to create for others. Our story starts in West Memphis, Arkansas, with a boy named Frank. A gentle, quiet boy blessed with long arms, a big frame and speed; Frank excelled in athletics. Sports so often can be a gateway from one place to another. Frank stood at this gate. It was open to him. Yet, he needed the ticket to pass through. That ticket was literacy.

Imagine you had a friend who always ordered the same thing you ordered, pointed at pictures and picked numbers in lieu of voicing a meal selection. Would you begin to question if that person could read? If so, what would you do? This hypothetical scenario became a reality for the Wilfong family when their son, Jonathan, played AAU basketball on the same team as Frank.

Frank Herron - Student at LSU, inspiration for the work Coaching for Literacy and personal friend of our founders

Frank Herron - Student at LSU, inspiration for the work Coaching for Literacy and personal friend of our founders

““J: “Frank, I need to ask you an important question, I am not going to be upset or disappointed by your answer, I just need to know the truth,” 
J: “Can you read?” 
F: “Of course I can read.””

— John Wilfong and Frank Herron

The room got quiet. A Sports Illustrated magazine slid across the office desk. John looked at Frank and said, “Can you read this article for me?” “Sure,” the boy answered in return, the confident voice now wavering. The next moments proved why Frank answered with uncertainty. This young man, now in 7th grade, struggled mightily to read. In fact, after being assessed, it was found that Frank’s ability to read was at a second grade level.

As is often true, one cannot be helped if they are not willing to help themselves. Frank is an individual that received help and in turn helped himself. He met opportunity - a change of schools, more academic oversight, the involvement of literacy programs, and additional literacy homework with hard work and personal commitment. By the beginning of 9th grade Frank was reading at a 6th grade level. He continued to excel athletically and colleges took note – the gate was open. With a multitude of scholarship offers now in hand, Frank had to graduate and score well on the ACT – a ticket was needed. Due to the combination of opportunity and hard work Frank did punch his own ticket. He graduated from Central High School, passed his ACT, and enrolled at LSU, where he currently plays on the football team. Frank has 36 credit hours, was recently named student athlete of the month, and carries a 3.0 GPA.

Frank is our story because his story is the one we want to create for others. We believe everyone is born with equal and great worth. Literacy is an expression of that worth and we strive to do everything within our means to give that value to every single child. Coaching for Literacy is about giving opportunity. We are about seeing children define their own story, their own ending, often escaping their beginnings to do so. We are about creating more stories like Frank’s story and less statistics like the ones we know all too well.