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Dungy and wife hope to coach kids to read

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Monday, Jan. 17, 2011

Tony Dungy has spent his life inspiring people, both on and off the football field.

Now, the former NFL coach and his wife, Lauren, are sharing their passion for getting books with meaning into the hands of children.

The couple will be in the Pittsburgh area this week to promote their new book, "You Can Be a Friend" (Simon & Schuster, $16.99).

"Daily reading is so important, especially with children spending so much time in front of the television and computers," Tony Dungy says. "We don't want children to lose out on reading, as well as the experience of having someone, especially a parent, read to them. The interaction is as important as the message among the pages."

Their story teaches children what it means to be a good friend. One of the characters, Jade, (named after of one of the Dungy children), has been planning to have her birthday party at a water park, but her new friend, Hannah, who recently moved to the neighborhood, is in a wheelchair. Now, Jade has a decision to make "is it more important to keep the celebration where she planned, or to make sure all her friends will have fun?"

"We wanted to write a heart-warming story about the lessons of friendship," says Lauren Dungy, a former elementary-school teacher. "We wanted to show how children can extend kindness and respect differences between children."

On Wednesday, the Dungys will present a program at Edgeworth elementary school in Sewickley. They will sign books at Barnes & Noble Booksellers at the Waterfront in Homestead. The stops are part of a national tour.

This book is inspired by one of the Dungy children.

"One of our children has some physical limitations, and he wants to be able to do all the things other kids can do such as running and playing sports," Tony Dungy says. "It is not always easy for these children, but if we can get others to be sensitive to what these children are going through, then we've gotten our message across. Having limitations doesn't have to limit the boundaries of friendship."

Getting the message across often takes some guidance, says Lauren Dungy, who is also a motivational speaker and vice president of the Dungy Family Foundation, which helps meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those in the community.

"Children are resilient," she says. "It might take them some time to sort through such a predicament, but they can do it, and they are stronger than we sometimes give them credit for. The book was a lot of fun and (illustrator) Ron (Mazellan) really captured what we wanted this book to capture."

The Dungys chose Pittsburgh for their book tour because of their strong ties to the area.

"We love Pittsburgh," says Tony Dungy, who played for the Steelers from 1977 to '78, and was an assistant coach for the team from 1981 to '89. He went on to lead the Indianapolis Colts to a win the 2007 Super Bowl.

Lauren was born in Sewickley, where she married Tony in 1982, and still has family there.

Since leaving coaching in 2008, Tony Dungy has written several bestsellers, including "Quiet Strength" and "Uncommon," and the children's picture book "You Can Do It!"

The couple, who live in Florida, plan to launch a reading program in Pittsburgh and three other cities in February to encourage children to read. They'll announce the program Wednesday during a program at the Pittsburgh King School on the North Side.

The program will include Dungy Family Foundation members and volunteers as guest readers. The foundation will donate books and other materials to promote reading by children. (Schools or community organizations that would like to schedule a reading, or anyone interested in supporting, volunteering or donating to the foundation, can e-mail .)

The couple is planning a second book. As parents of seven children who range in age from 1 12 to 26, they have plenty of material. In raising their kids, they've experienced many things, including the death of a child in 2005.

"We want to encourage people to think about others, and we, as parents, have to think about our roles in helping our children think about others," Tony Dungy says. "We need each other to get through tough circumstances sometimes, and we hope with a book such as this that that will help work through a situation.

"We wear many hats as parents," he says. "The biggest thing to remember is that each child is different."

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