Second-graders at Darbydale Elementary School had some special visitors March 14.

Second-graders at Darbydale Elementary School had some special visitors March 14.

Student athletes from Ohio State and Ohio Dominican universities came to the school intent on reading to students and talking about the importance of books in their own lives.

The visit was sponsored by the 2nd & 7 Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1999 by former Ohio State University football players Luke Fickell, Ryan Miller and Mike Vrabel.

The trio were inspired by their involvement in community outreach programs while they were student athletes and wanted their foundation to focus on reading and providing positive role models for youngsters.

"The name 2nd & 7 came from the beginnings of the foundation, when they were able to hand out books and read to second-grade classrooms at seven schools," said Chad Lusher, who provides marketing and public relations services for the organization.

"Second grade is an important age for children and their development as readers," he said.

The foundation's work has grown to include the partnership with OSU and ODU, coordinating weekly visits by student athletes to schools throughout central Ohio and publishing a series of books about characters known as Hog Mollies, Lusher said.

" 'Hog Mollies' was what their football coach, John Cooper, would call the offensive line at Ohio State," he said.

Each book includes a lesson about an important life theme, Lusher said. Past themes have included teamwork, trying your best, the importance of diversity and how small acts of kindness can have large impacts.

"Our focus is working with schools with economically disadvantaged students and communities," he said.

Along with Hog Mollies books, the student athletes also brought a visitor: Hoppy, one of the characters featured in the stories.

"The students were so excited about having the athletes coming in," said second-grade teacher Melissa Eiden.

"It doesn't matter whether it's an Ohio State football player or a swimmer," she said. "They look up to them and ask them to sign their books. They are real role models to our students."

Darbydale arranges a 2nd & 7 visit each year, Eiden said.

The second-grade classes read Hog Mollies books leading up to the big day, she said.

The foundation's inclusion of life lessons in the stories is ideal for second-grade readers, Eiden said.

"At this age, students are beginning to understand and appreciate the books and stories they read aren't just about the words. There is often a message or idea behind the story," she said. "Deeper thinking is beginning to happen when they read."

To encourage students to read at home, Darbydale has a Reading Incentive Program.

"Each grade level has a target amount of time. For second grade, it's 15 minutes of reading," Eiden said. "If their parents have confirmed they've done that (for at least four days each week during a month), students are recognized at our monthly showcase."