Ohio State University athletes past and present, including a three-time Olympic gold medalist, visited Tremont Elementary last week to encourage students to make reading a regular part of their lives.

The message was delivered to Tremont Elementary students during a Feb. 7 visit by members of the 2nd & 7 Foundation, a Columbus-based nonprofit established 20 years ago by former Ohio State football players Ryan Miller, Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel.

"Whatever you do in life, the foundation of whatever you do is going to be reading," Miller said. "Reading is a foundation, a fundamental, that you have to be able to do in life in order to be successful. You should practice it every day."

The group started with a youth football camp in summer 1999, and that fall, Miller, Fickell and Vrabel began visiting classrooms to promote youth literacy to reading to students. The foundation generates enough money to buy books for seven second-grade classes each year.

Since 1999, the 2nd & 7 Foundation has continued to extend its reach and now involves student athletes from OSU and other college athletics programs around the country.

The visit to Tremont on Feb. 7 was a reference to the foundation's name, which relates to a down and distance term used in football.

Athletes who visited the school last week shared a story from the foundation's own series of books, "The Hog Mollies" and handed out copies of the book to every Tremont student.

Readers included Miller, Byers Auto Group owner and vice president George Kauffman, former OSU baseball player Nate Smith, current OSU lacrosse players Griffin Hughes and Jack Jasinski and Mikey Zedan, a freshman who runs cross country and track at OSU.

Also on the panel was Katie Smith, the all-time scoring leader in women's professional basketball, the third all-time leading scorer in OSU women's basketball history, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in women's basketball and current head coach of the WNBA's New York Liberty.

Students received high-fives from the panelists and got to see and touch Smith's three gold medals.

Tremont Principal Jim Buffer said the 2nd & 7 visit was a way to excite young students and emphasize the importance of literacy.

"Kindergarten through grade three is a critical time in the development of both reading skills and a love for reading and learning," Buffer said. "The visit from the 2nd & 7 Foundation is a pep rally of sorts for the joy of reading.

"Students get to meet and hear from wonderful role models who share their love of reading."