Informal surveys have revealed that for the 34 years of SI's existence, most of our preteen readers have been content to leaf through the magazine and look at the pictures. The truly ambitious among these youngsters might go so far as to read the captions or, if sufficiently moved, cut out photos of their favorite athletes and tape them to their bedroom walls.
However, when Sports Illustrated for Kids makes its debut in January, the 19.5 million Americans between the ages of eight and 13 will have more than pictures to tell the story; they will have the first sports monthly written exclusively for them. The publisher of the new magazine is Ann Moore, who has been SI's general manager for five years, and its managing editor is John Papanek, a 15-year SI veteran who has been a reporter, writer and, most recently, the senior editor in charge of our baseball coverage. Says Papanek, in keeping with the spirit—and possibly argot—of the new enterprise, "I am pumped."
The feeling is shared, according to interviews SI has conducted, by hundreds of eight- to 13-year-olds, their parents and teachers. Papanek and Moore—and virtually all of the educators SI has consulted—see SI for Kids as a potent weapon against America's burgeoning illiteracy rate (experts foresee a U.S. in which, in the year 2000, one third of the adult population will be functionally illiterate). That's part of the reason we're giving 250,000 free subscriptions for the new magazine to children at underfunded elementary schools around the country. "Obviously, it's in our interest to have a literate work force that loves sports and reads SI," says Moore. "But 33 percent of the country functionally illiterate—that's a chilling statistic."
Young readers will be encouraged to write letters to the new magazine and even to write some of its articles. With regular features like HOTSHOTS, about kids who excel at various sports, and THE WORST DAY I EVER HAD, in which a star athlete describes how he or she overcame a huge disappointment, young readers will have an SI tailored to their interests.
September 4, 1988
"Kids have weird senses of humor and can be truly enigmatic," says Moore. "But we will reach them."
Says Papanek, paraphrasing actor-comedian and children's TV show host Martin Short: "Never assume a kid doesn't get it. We do not intend to baby them. We will push them, challenge them. We will give them an irresistible invitation to read."