PHOENIX – Today, Mary C. O’Brien Elementary School in Casa Grande was crowned champion of Read to the Final Four, a statewide reading contest for Arizona third graders.

Mary C. O’Brien Elementary won the same competition in 2017, when Phoenix hosted its first Men’s Final Four – and third grade teacher Eileen Vasquez led the students both times.

Third graders from the Final Four schools in the competition attended a celebration on Friday at Men’s Final Four Fan Fest presented by Capital One ®. CTA Freedom Campus in Gilbert was runner-up, Amberlea Elementary School in Phoenix finished third and Paseo Pointe Dual Language Academy in Laveen finished fourth. The Read to the Final Four contest awarded $5,000 to the winning school, Mary C. O’Brien Elementary School, and $2,500 to each of the three runner-up schools for reading, literacy, or library programs. 

In a surprise announcement at Friday’s celebration, Helios Education Foundation doubled these awards. As a result, Mary C. O’Brien Elementary School will now receive $10,000, and CTA Freedom Campus, Amberlea Elementary School, and Paseo Pointe Dual Language Academy will each receive $5,000 for their programs.

“Congratulations to Mary C. O’Brien Elementary School – again – and to all of the Arizona third graders who read a combined 19 million minutes during Read to the Final Four. What an achievement,” said JoAn Scott, NCAA Vice President of Men’s Basketball. “Everyone wins when students are motivated to read, and the NCAA is proud to provide this important initiative.”

Students from the top two schools were surprised with the news that they will receive brand new bikes and helmets. Bikes will be built at a community event on Sunday by band and spirit squads representing the two teams playing in the national championship game and will be delivered next week.

The free program used the excitement surrounding the Men’s Final Four to inspire third graders to accelerate their reading. The 2024 Men’s Final Four is set for April 6 and 8 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

The Phoenix Final Four Local Organizing Committee, the NCAA and Helios Education Foundation teamed up to present this year’s Read to the Final Four.

“Congratulations to every student across Arizona who participated in Read to the Final Four – they are all champions in the classroom,” said Jay Parry, CEO of the Phoenix Local Organizing Committee, which is collaborating with the NCAA to host the 2024 Men’s Final Four. “The platform of the Men’s Final Four inspired 15,616 Arizona third graders to raise their reading game. We’re grateful to the NCAA and Helios Education Foundation for providing third graders across the state an experience they will never forget — and we hope it will instill a lifelong love of reading.”

The six-month literacy challenge was based upon average time spent reading among third-grade students. 15,617 Arizona third graders from 59 school districts and 242 schools – 62 percent of them Title 1 schools – read a total of 20,154,704 million minutes combined. In late January, the top 68 schools were placed in a single-elimination bracket, with winners advancing until a champion was crowned during Men’s Final Four weekend.  

Mary C. O’Brien Elementary School’s 18 third grade students read an average of 13,414 minutes each during the entire competition.

“We are thrilled to see thousands of third graders from across Arizona participated in the Read to the Final Four,” said Vince Roig, Founding Chairman of Helios Education Foundation’s Board of Directors. “We believe the focus on reading fostered by this initiative will have a profound impact on these students far into the future. Thank you to the principals and teachers who helped get their students excited about reading and competing in Read to the Final Four.”