Harden, White Launch New Season of Read to Achieve

With the help of a several hundred enthusiastic children, three Thunder Girls, two Thunder players and one bison, the Thunder kicked off a new season of Read to Achieve, a literacy initiative aimed at instilling in young people a lifelong love of reading.

Presented by American Fidelity Assurance Company, Read to Achieve launched its third season Sept. 16 at AFA’s partner school, Buchanan Elementary in Oklahoma City. A boisterous crowd of 400 kids packed the gym for a program that began with a surprise visit from Rumble. The celebrated bison performed magic tricks -- which he had learned in a book, “Magic for Dummies” -- and convened a relay race that involved kids shooting baskets while clad in oversized basketball jerseys and size-18 sneakers. Among those cheering on the participants were Thunder Girls Riane, Sheri and Helen.

Thunder players James Harden and D.J. White then took the stage for a Reading Time-Out. The pair shared reading duties for “Miss Smith Reads Again!,” a tale about a magical teacher and a story that conjures up a real-life menagerie of dinosaurs.

The 24-year-old White has taken part in several readings to schoolchildren, but the event marked a Reading Time-Out debut for Harden.

White gave his teammate high marks.

“He did a good job,” he said. “Maybe he was a little bit nervous. He’s a youngster, but he did a good job for the first time out.”

Harden, who is all of three years White’s junior, said he enjoyed the experience.

“I was really into it,” said Harden. “I wasn’t just reading it. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. It was a really great book.”

Buchanan Principal Scott Kaufman praised both readers.

“They did a great job,” he said. “To see two athletes that they’ve seen on TV read was really amazing to them,” he said.

In addition to Reading Time-Outs, Read to Achieve includes two other key components: the Rolling Thunder Book Bus and the Thunder Reading Challenge.

The Book Bus has distributed more than 26,000 books to children at about 320 visits to Oklahoma City metro schools, community centers and other locations.

The annual Thunder Reading Challenge, which begins in November, is a competition that rewards elementary school students who read for the highest total of minutes. Approximately 9,000 students in 100 area schools registered in the first contest, which was held last year. The winner of that challenge, an Edmond second-grade student, alone read more than 39,000 minutes.

American Fidelity Assurance’s Oklahoma State Manager, Nancee Roberson, said the reading initiative is near and dear to AFA’s collective heart.

“Reading is important to being able to do anything in life, from being a basketball player and reading plays, to being a doctor or a lawyer,” she said. “It really gives a child an opportunity to do anything they want to in life.”