WADE SMITH, retired 12 year NFL veteran from Dallas, Texas, received his BA in Finance at the University of Memphis before being drafted to the Miami Dolphins. In 2010, he joined the Houston Texans where he started 64 games. In 2012, he established the Wade Smith Foundation, which supports community youth programs in the Greater Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex areas and focuses on literacy and education. Smith feels strongly about giving back to the communities that helped him succeed. He believes the best way to do this by encouraging kids to expand their minds by becoming avid readers and to also make obtaining a college degree a realistic stepping-stone in life. In addition to being the executive director of the Wade Smith Foundation, Smith is an ambassador for the Houston Texans, as well as a public speaker. He and his wife Rita, have three daughters and live in Houston.
Can you give our readers a brief description of your books and the inspiration behind them?
The main character in my book is Smitty. He is a 9-10 year old version of myself when I was a kid. The inspiration for my books was my love of reading. When I was a kid, I always loved to read. However, I had friends that didn't feel the same way. In class, when it was time to read, I was always the first to raise my hand. My friends would avoid it and act out or do something to get in trouble to get out of reading. At first, I thought it was funny, but when you fast forward and see where they ended up in life, I realized that they were afraid of reading and of being embarrassed and talked about because they couldn't read well. Now, I visit schools in Houston and in Dallas and talk to kids about how important reading is and that If you're struggling with reading it’s okay. However, it is not okay to stay that way. In order to achieve anything in life and to have the ability to reach your dreams, you must have the fundamental ability to read in your background. Otherwise, you don't have a chance.
“Smitty Hits the Play Books” is about a kid whose mom doesn't want him to play football. He begs and pleads until finally, she relents. But then he stops doing his homework and doesn't pay attention in class. That actually happened to me.
My mom didn't want me to play football, because i failed a class. So, football was taken away from. But l convinced my mom that all I thought about was football. I really did think about it all of the time. From that point, I decided I would never let something like bad grades take away what I was passionate about and really enjoyed doing. I wrote this book to make a connection - a way for kids to see how cool reading is and how reaching your dreams can be done. Now as an author I am able to reach back and help others to achieve what they want to achieve in life.
Why did you choose to cover a complex topic such as bullying in a book for children?
Bullying is something that affects almost every kid that goes to school. It was different when I was a kid but I think things are more magnified these days, and it is a topic that needs to be discussed and addressed. It affects a lot of kids and kids are acting out and lashing out at alarming rates as a result of bullying. “Smitty Tackles Bullying” is about just letting people know that it is not okay to bully someone else. Also, It is not okay to see someone being bullied and not intervene, and it is not okay to allow yourself to be bullied and not stand up for yourself. I think it is critical for those 3 things to work in conjunction to minimize the problem as much as possible. It will never go away, but there are things we can do to make the situation better and minimize it. I think kids can identify with [the book] and remember how they felt. They can keep that in mind and say 'hey, I don't want anyone to do that to me and I don't want another person to feel how I felt when I was getting made fun of.'
Many people think bullying is only physical. However, bullying comes in many different forms. In your book “Smitty Tackles Bullying," one of the characters was being taunted by a classmate because he was struggling with reading. What advice would you give to young people dealing with bullying?
I think first and foremost if someone is being bullied, you need to let it be known that you feel uncomfortable with what the person is doing to you. You have to vocalize it and say it is not cool. Once you do that and it continues, the next point is you want to bring in people who are adults. I think it is a really critical thing that peers intervene at that same age level. When I was on a Football team in 7th and 8th grade, we didn't allow people to get bullied. We made fun of each other and joked around, but when you singled a person out, and you can tell it is really affecting him, we would say hey, leave him alone and let him be because you don't want that person to shut down and go another route. The most popular kids in school have the influence and power to decide who is to be messed with and who is not to be messed with. When they take a stand and say this will not be tolerated by us, that makes a huge difference in any environment. When I visit schools, I talk directly to the kids in sports, the popular kids, the presidents of the student council, the cool kids. In order to be a cool kid, you don't have to belittle and make fun of someone else to feel better about yourself. Now, if it comes to a point you have to involve parents and teachers and administrators, you have to involve them, but the last thing you should do is take matters into your own hands or allow it to happen, that is when people harm others or harm themselves.
Is there any advice you can offer to the parents of kids who are being bullied?
Parents need to always be as involved as they can with their kids so they can pick up on things earlier rather than later.... Being actively involved in the school, with the teachers and administrators so they can monitor their kids is important. Parents instilling self-esteem in their kids is a big deal. Kids with higher self-esteem, confidence, and value for themselves tend not to be bullied. That is a big part of it - being there for your kids and letting them know they are great kids and great people. The last thing you won't want a parent to do is to take things into their own hands. You want to avoid that at all costs.
As a mother of two young athletes, I can relate to the mom in your children’s book “Smitty Hits the Play books” and her decision to put academics first. What advice can you offer to parents to assist them in creating a good balance between sports and academics?
A lot of times, it has to do with the emphasis on what is the most important to you and what your priorities are. You have to prioritize what you do in the classroom just like anything else. As hard as you have to work physically on the field, on the court or on the baseball diamond to be the best, you have to work that hard on your education as well. You have to let your kids know education is more important. I tell student-athletes, your athletic background and what you can achieve in sports can only take you so far in life. Expanding your horizons, reading books on your own and intelligence, in general, can last a lifetime. Of course, there are many positive life lessons in sports that you can learn, but you have to understand you can't do one without the other. Time management is critical for student-athletes because there is so much that has to be done in the classroom to be an A, B student, plus with the requirements on the field there is a lot you have to put into it. Also, making sure they don't have too much idle time that is not productive is key.
Along with being an author, you're also a philanthropist, correct? Can you tell our readers a little about “The Wade Smith Foundation” and the amazing work that your organization is doing to promote childhood literacy and education?
We are promoting two of our major programs with the foundation - Reading with the Pros and Smitty's Scholarship Program. We’ve been promoting literacy since 2012 and have been to over 50 elementary schools between Houston and Dallas, reaching close to 40,000 kids. Myself, and other current NFL players, disc jockeys, personalities, WNBA players, other authors and professionals from all walks of life all get involved, and we do an assembly with 3rd-6th graders and talk about the importance of reading and how it opens the doors for different opportunities. We encourage any children struggling with reading to get help. We also encourage those children who are good readers to help their peers that may be struggling with reading. Also, we tell kids to read to their parents. We deal with kids who have parents that are not from this country. Therefore, we stress to them that reading to their parents can help them pick up the language. We do a Q&A with the kids with a diverse panel that every kid in the class identifies with. When we have DJs, the kids light up because they have heard of them on the radio. We tie it into how reading and music go hand in hand. With Firefighters, police officers, etc. we do the same thing. After we have done that, we break off and go to kindergarten and 1st grade, and we read to them. We aren't just talking, we lead by example, and we urge young people to do the same thing - we have them read to the other kids who are younger than them.
With Smitty's Scholars - We raise funds as much as possible to help the students excelling academically and most likely won't get a scholarship for playing sports, but don't have the money to pay for school. I dealt with this personally in my life. if I didn't get my scholarship to play at the University of Memphis, I wouldn't have been able to go to school because my family didn't have the money. I would've had to get a job to try to stay afloat. There are so many kids in this situation because these days tuition is so expensive.
To help bridge the gap we give scholarships to outgoing seniors in Houston and Dallas at my old high school. We give out $20,000/year, and at this point, we have given out over $100,000 in scholarships.
Not many people can say they have played in the NFL, yet you were drafted in the 3rd round in 2003 and played in the National Football League for twelve seasons!!! What advice would you give not only to aspiring authors but also to young people in hopes that they too will follow their dreams?
I think that they have to understand that nothing worth having in life comes easy. It will take hard work and sacrifice to achieve any dream. There are so many things that people aspire to be, but they have to make good decisions because there are so many easy ways out and temptations you will encounter along the way. If you love doing something and you are passionate about it, there is nothing that should hold you back from achieving your dream. If you love it and put in the work, I believe you can do whatever you want to. You will have failures and make mistakes, and you will have to overcome hardships. But if you stick with it, learn from your mistakes and put everything into it you can achieve your dream.
PROMOTES LITERACY &
When he was a boy, Wade Smith loved playing football so much he stopped ding his homework. Luckily his mom and his favorite teacher weren’t having any of that. In Smitty Hits the (Play) Books, Wade shares the story of how these strong women got his attention and helped him under-stand how important school is, even for football stars.
In Smitty Tackles Bullying, Smitty is one year older and another year wiser since readers last saw him. He has truly discovered his love of reading and is doing great in class and on the field! But, Smitty begins to worry when he notices his best friend, Luke, is skipping out on Reading Lab. Smitty decides to investigate, leading him to discover that a classmate is bully-ing Luke as he struggles to read aloud in class!
The Smitty series sends a clear message to young readers and athletes about the importance of staying focused at school, and that reading is cool!
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