On any other day, an M.H. Moore Elementary classroom would be full of loud and energetic students. But on a recent Monday the class was quiet — save for the sound of turning pages.

Students buried heads into their books. Moore Elementary is, after all, the reigning reading champions of Fort Worth ISD.

Moore’s students are working hard to defend their title in Readers Become Leaders, a program that promotes and rewards reading among elementary students. This year, 81 schools are participating in the competition that emphasizes the importance of reading to students.

Last year, Moore’s students won $5,000 for a library refresh. They also were invited to attend the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship at Dickies Arena.

Shelly Breen, who’s worked for the WNBA, has partnered with the NCAA, and is author of children’s series “Shelly Bean the Sports Queen,” wants to help expose kids to reading, and the possibilities sports provide. She believes the Readers Become Leaders program is the perfect outlet to achieve it.

“Reading is fundamental” is a phrase Breen repeats often. She sees reading as a way for students to better envision their futures.

“When we’re engaged in reading, and excited about reading at an early age, it opens up the door for so many more possibilities,” Breen said.

In Fort Worth, the six schools that log the most reading hours from Jan. 23 to April 3 will win a trip to the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship. The top school will receive $5,000 for a library refresh. 

This is the fifth consecutive year Readers Become Leaders has run in conjunction with the Fort Worth Sports Commission and the NCAA. The organizations say as long as the gymnastics championships are hosted in Fort Worth, they’ll keep the program running for years to come. The NCAA agreed to keep the championship in Dickies Arena through 2026.

The two prizes link reading and sports.

“Some kids need more inspiration for getting excited about reading,” Breen said. “If we could use sports as a vehicle for that, great.”

Breen remembers how her early habit of reading influenced her love of sports. But, while scouring through a Scholastic Book Fair order form around 2013, she realized there wasn’t a single sports book with a woman as a main character. She did some further digging and found that less than 2% of children’s books published annually feature a physically active woman character.

Her series of books is trying to shift this narrative to include better representation within children and sports books. Breen wants young girls to see themselves as tough, sports-playing “queens,” and it’s why Readers Become Leaders’ prize of a trip to the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship is so fitting, she said. 

The program is another example of education fostering student’s futures. 

“My excitement is around the connections that are being made between sports and education at a collegiate level and how they’re collaborating with the next generation,” Breen said. “It’s an investment in the community in which the tournaments are being run.”

For Fort Worth ISD students, Readers Become Leaders may be the kickstart needed to pick up a lifelong passion for reading, officials said. Fort Worth ISD Chief of Schools Jerry Moore told the students at Moore Elementary how valuable reading can be.

“We all know how important reading is in school and in life,” Moore told an auditorium of elementary students. “When we’re young, we learn to read. But when we’re old, we read so we can learn.”

Matthew Sgroi is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Matthew Sgroi is the 2022-23 Fort Worth Report multimedia fellow. He can be reached at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.com or (503)-828-4063. Sgroi is a current senior at Texas Christian University, majoring...