Beginning Thursday, the Minneapolis Final Four host committee will try to bring the enthusiasm for college basketball's brackets to books.

The "Read to the Final Four" program seeks to get third-graders to hit the books for fun by creating a friendly competition to coincide with the 2019 NCAA men's college basketball tournament. The March Madness championship weekend will play out at U.S. Bank Stadium next April 6-8.

On Thursday, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter will read "Strong to the Hoop" by Minneapolis author John Coy to a classroom at the Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet elementary school in St. Paul. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey will be there, along with Minneapolis schools Superintendent Ed Graff and St. Paul schools Superintendent Joe Gothard.

Along with the formal kickoff, current second-graders at participating schools can sign on through a portal on the Final Four committee's website, finalfourminneapolis.com, to get free software and access to 5,800 age-appropriate books.

The kids will be able to read and/or download the titles. For now, it's just practice. In the fall, when the same students are third-graders, the competition will commence. The software will track the time students spend reading.

Host committee CEO Kate Mortenson said organizers plan to keep the event and the competition in the spotlight throughout the year by bringing authors and athletes into classrooms throughout the state. She said it's an opportunity to "shine a light" on the importance of reading.

It's also an attempt by the committee to leave a legacy beyond three high-profile basketball games. Focusing on third-graders is important because "it's the critical year that kids transition from learning to read to reading to learn," Mortenson said.

The schools with the highest average reading time will make it to the March Madness field of 68, the so-called bracket, which will be announced on Selection Sunday, the same day the NCAA announces the brackets and seedings for the basketball tournament.

Just like the NCAA bracket, it's then tournament time and each school starts anew — until a champion is chosen on the same weekend as the basketball finale.

Winning schools and individual readers will get prizes.