The Tip-off: Final Four reading competition a slam dunk with students

Selection Sunday is one of the most exciting days in collegiate sports.

It’s when NCAA basketball teams find out if they’re going to the Big Dance.

The tournament brackets are revealed on live TV, and the broadcast usually features the jubilant reactions of players and their fans/fellow students.

Channeling that aura of excitement and anticipation, students, teachers, administrators and parents gathered in the jam-packed pint-sized gym at B.C. Haynie Elementary in Morrow on Monday (Jan. 27) morning as the NCAA and Atlanta Basketball Host Committee unveiled the 68 schools that qualified for the Read to the Final Four bracket-style competition.

Like the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, Monday’s event featured a panel of commentators seated behind a TV-studio-like desk on the gym floor, hosted by two-time NCAA champ Grant Hill, along with the NCAA Assistant Director of Championships and Alliances Matt White, Host Committee Executive Director Carl Adkins, Clayton County Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley and K-5 ELA Coordinator Ebony Brown.

The Read to the Final Four program is the NCAA and Host Committee’s literacy initiative designed to leave a positive legacy in metro Atlanta long after the Final Four games are played April 4-6 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, located on the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s (GWCCA) campus.

“And we do this through promoting academic achievement and love of the game of basketball,” said Adkins.

Since November, more than 38,000 third grade students at 360 elementary schools across metro Atlanta have competed as school-wide reading teams for a chance to advance through rounds of competition that mirrors NCAA March Madness. Using an online digital platform students have accessed thousands of books and tracked the minutes they read.

“Today we find out which third-grade students keep their Read to the Final Four tournament chances alive,” said Hill, the former Duke University and NBA star who now is a co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks. “I’m sure many students – and teachers – have butterflies in their stomachs today. After months of preparation, the top 68 schools with the highest reading average will advance and earn a spot in the bracket. Read to the Final Four is the perfect blend of education and basketball. This literacy initiative enables students to join in on the excitement that the Final Four brings. Having won two Final Fours myself while a student-athlete at Duke University I know just how special and exciting this competition can be.”

Why are only third graders eligible for the competition?

“We did our homework at the NCAA and we understood that third grade is such an important year in the development of young students,” said White. “What we learned is that from first grade to third grade, you learn to read. And from third grade on, you read to learn. And so that’s why we identified the third grade for this Read to the Final Four program.”

White said when the program started in 2015 in Final Four host city Indianapolis, approximately 7,000 youngsters enrolled and they read around five million minutes.

“What’s even better is you young people here in Atlanta – we’ve got 38,000 students enrolled in the program and you guys have already read over six million minutes,” said White. “So Atlanta is geared and ready to blow this thing out of the water.”

Ending the suspense, Brown took to the mic and announced the round of 68 as they were revealed on a large video monitor. Of course, Haynie Elementary, made the cut, earning the No. 4 seed in the Peachtree Point Guards Region.

The top teams to advance will win field trips to the Final Four Fan Fest presented by Capital One that’s being held at the Georgia World Congress Center on April 3-6, where they’ll also be recognized during a special ceremony.

The Tip-off is a bi-monthly series tracking the Georgia World Congress Center Authority campus’ march to the 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four.