Many students look up to the coaches and athletes of their favorite teams, but few actually have the opportunity to make a personal connection. When a Tulsa 8th grader returned from spring break, he never expected to find just that--words of encouragement written directly to him from an inspiring leader in collegiate sports.

Serving at a middle school in Tulsa,  City Year AmeriCorps member Jerico Phillips takes pride in getting to know his students and their families. “We spend eight hours a day together. We know their lives—their ups and downs.” He shared. When one of his students was struggling to stay focused, Jerico had an idea. “Knowing that this student wants to play for Duke University’s basketball team, I suggested to his teacher that we reach out to the team’s staff for a letter emphasizing the importance of staying focused and getting a good education.” Two weeks after contacting the athletics department, with no response, a letter arrived in the mail. “We just couldn’t believe it! Here’s a major university getting ready for March Madness and their head coach took time to write a letter to a student in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”

The letter, signed by Duke University Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski, directly urges the student to do well, highlighting the value of education:

Dear [Student]:

I recently received a letter from someone who cares for you a great deal and would like to see you achieve your goals in school, learning, and life. I would like to encourage you to work hard in school and always do your best. The rewards will benefit you tremendously. Do not allow outside pressures to distract you from your positive goals in life. Always remember to be respectful to your parents, teachers and classmates. My basketball players would never have had the opportunity to play for me if they had not first done well in school. In other words, setting priorities is taking care of first things first. In your case, going to school and doing as well as you possibly can be is tremendously important. In fact, my players participate in a program called “Take a Shot at Reading.” They go to elementary schools all over Durham and talk about the importance of reading as well as reading from a book, and discussing the importance of receiving a high school diploma and going on to college.

I also believe that sports can be a tremendous outlet for young men and women to develop persistence, discipline and teamwork or a spirit of cooperation with other people.

Take care and remember to always try your best!


Mike Krzyzewski

An inspiration for many, Coach Mike Krzyzewski demonstrates a dedication to helping young people achieve their goals. In 2006, Krzyzewski and his family established the Emily Krzyzewski Center, a non-profit organization in Durham that encourages students from kindergarten to high school to dream big, act with character and purpose, and reach their potential as leaders in their community. The organization provides additional programming to achieve success in school, gain entry to college, and break the cycle of poverty in their families.

Creating this kind of connection is something that can only come from the unique near-peer connection that City Year AmeriCorps members are able to build with students.  For this student, the letter came as a surprise. He was left speechless when City Year corps members presented the letter—now framed—to him during lunch on Monday. “I can’t believe this is real,” he remarked, “How did you even know I liked Duke?”  

When asked what he would do next, the student enthusiastically replied, "I'm going to do good in school!"


Watch an interview with the student and City Year Tulsa AmeriCorps member at Fox23:

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