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Patrick Laird – By The Book | Cal’s Senior Running Back Encourages Kids To Read Through His Summer Reading Challenge

Posted August 6, 2018 by in


Cal RB Patrick Laird founded his reading organization on April 2018 with a mission to motivate kids to read during the summer.
This GSF/WARCAT Exclusive features the Golden Bears redshirt junior answering questions from a few kids who would like to get to know more about “Mr. Patrick Laird, running-back from Cal.”

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July 24, 2018

BERKELEY – It’s admirable enough that Cal running back Patrick Laird feels compelled to give back to his community, make a positive impact on kids, and use his platform as a star college football player to improve the quality of the lives around him.

But simply praising Laird for his philanthropic ways is only acknowledging part of his inspiring story. Laird just doesn’t want to make a change. He has rolled up his sleeves and done much of the logistical busywork that has allowed him to leverage his platform in the first place.

When Laird announced the creation of the Patrick Laird Summer Reading Challenge in April, he essentially launched his own company. Laird built the website for the challenge, which includes the vehicle that allows kids to sign up to participate. He also has coordinated 26 speaking engagements to promote the challenge, working with school principals and teachers as well as summer camp directors to arrange days and times to make a presentation to children.

“To be able to prioritize this and really make this work because of his personal investment of time and energy, it’s just one of those times as an athletic director that you beam like a proud parent,” Cal Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton said. “What he’s done, the initiative he’s taken, the hard work he’s put into this reading challenge, is admirable. We should all be really proud of Patrick Laird.”

Make no mistake, Laird is a self-made philanthropist. He grew up in a home in Arroyo Grande, Calif., where reading was the primary source of entertainment. He has vivid memories of watching his three older siblings read, and he yearned for the days he could consume his first chapter book.

Laird’s affinity for reading didn’t stop when he arrived at Cal. Despite the busy demands of a Division I football student-athlete, Laird still reads every day, and not just the assigned material from his classwork.

“I love reading. You learn new perspectives,” Laird said. “You can travel all around the world by just sitting in a library. And socially, I think there are a lot of things that can be solved through education and improving our education system. I think the foundation of education is reading, so I’m trying to attack one of the problems in our society.”

Laird emerged as one of the Pac-12’s top running backs last season, rushing for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns while catching 45 passes for 322 yards. That included a 214-yard rushing performance in a 37-23 victory over Oregon State.

He also earned some attention for a unique touchdown celebration – positioning his hands to simulate reading a book.

“A couple of seasons ago, my buddy Chad Hansen (a former Cal wide receiver) was doing all these cool touchdown celebrations,” Laird said. “After one game on a Sunday, some teammates and I were going around the room saying, ‘who would do what?’ Someone jokingly said, ‘Patrick would probably read a book.’ My teammates know that I love to read. They like to poke fun at me for being a nerd, but I’m not ashamed of that.”

Laird enters the 2018 season on preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award (nation’s top player) and Doak Walker Award (nation’s top running back). When he made the realization he would enter his senior year earning a lot of attention, his thoughts immediately turned to ways in which he could positively affect the community.

Laird did some research and learned about summer reading loss – the negative effects that result when children don’t read over the summer. That led to his summer reading challenge, a way to motivate children in grades 1-6 to pick up a book when school is not in session.

Laird’s challenge to kids is simple. First and second graders need to read four books this summer, while children in grades 3-6 are required to read six books. Their reward for meeting the challenge? Four tickets to the Bears’ 2018 season-opener against North Carolina on Sept. 1.

“I knew with my new-found platform after last season that I wanted to do something positive this summer,” Laird said. “I wanted to do something I was really passionate about. As Cal fans found out last season, I love to read.”

After launching the challenge, Laird set his sights on visiting as many kids as he could in person to convey his message. He’s spoken to well over 2,000 kids, and nearly 3,500 have signed up for the challenge. Most of his speaking engagements have been as a result of unsolicited inquiries from teachers and school administrators that found out about the challenge and asked Laird to make a personal appearance.

“It’s been really tough planning all this but I’ve looked at it as building my own personal life skills,” Laird said. “It’s really helping me grow as a person. So on top of inspiring all these kids and helping them read, my personal development over the past couple months has been huge.”

Thao and Emily Phan, who both attended Cal, signed their daughter, Kylie, up for the challenge. Thao Phan said Kylie and her younger sister often watch Cal games together and noticed Laird’s touchdown celebration.

“I told them what he was doing – that he was opening a book and reading it,” Phan said. “I saw Patrick’s reading challenge and I read more about it and it caught my attention. He helps legitimize the importance of reading. He’s making it cool for kids.”

Phan ended up e-mailing Laird to ask if he could make an appearance at Lydiksen Elementary School in Pleasanton, where his daughters attend. Laird was there a couple weeks later for a presentation.

At San Pedro Elementary in San Rafael, Principal Mimi Melodia said she expects virtually every student who attended Laird’s presentation to complete the challenge and attend the game on Sept. 1. Most of the students at San Pedro are English language learners. Melodia also set up a college tour for her students before the game.

“Patrick is extremely mature for an undergrad,” Melodia said. “To organize all this, to run your own website, e-mail the right people and show up and interact with the kids – he was great. It’s nice to see somebody going to schools and talking to kids, trying to get involved in something so positive.”

To sign up for the Patrick Laird Summer Reading Challenge, visit his website

2018-07-18 Patrick Laird Summer Reading Challenge DSC01976 Jared Prescott

2018-07-18 Patrick Laird Summer Reading Challenge DSC01981 Jared Prescott

2018-07-18 Patrick Laird Summer Reading Challenge DSC01905 Jared Prescott

About the Author

Alforde Joaquin

ALF’s passion for shooting and editing has earned him several awards including an Edward R. Murrow Award in 2006 for Videography. He was also a nominee for the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Videography. A 6-time Emmy recipient for five different categories: Director/Producer, Videography, Editing, Feature Segment and Sound Mixing, Alf has produced over 1,000 video segments and is committed to developing GetSportsFocus as one of the best sports video magazine on the web.