To my kids who are moving on from our team,
For the last five to eight years, most of you have been a member of the Garden Valley Falcons, a youth football team around E 79th and Kinsman, one of Ohio’s most impoverished areas. Through football, I, along with your other coaches, aimed to teach you life skills and provide you with strong mentors. For six to eight months out of the year, I saw you for two hours a day, five days out of the week. As your coach, I earned your trust and formed a bond with many of you that transcends sports. Now, you are 14 years old and moving on from our program.
However, before you move on, more than anything, I want to make sure that you know that the potential for greatness lies within each one of you. But you must realize that a lot can happen in the next four years that will determine your future.
Some kids have come through this same program and moved on to become professionals in many fields, from health care workers to actors. Many of our alum have six-figure salaries. One of our former players, Demario McCall, received a football scholarship to play at Ohio State, where he recently earned a college degree.
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On the flip side, some guys have left this program and the streets got to them. Recruited by the guys in the neighborhood driving the fancy cars and wearing the nice clothes, there are former Falcons who chose to get involved with crime, drugs, and violence.
There was one player who I used to drive to and from every game. He always wanted to sit in the front seat next to me. We were close on and off the field and he was a very talented player. However, two years after our program, he and another former player got arrested for robbery. He went to jail for four years. Only two months after getting out of prison, he was shot dead. Gone. He was just 20 years old.
These next four years will dictate which way your life goes. I see so much of myself in all of you, as I grew up in this neighborhood, too. I know what it’s like to have parents who were drug addicts. I know what it is like to live in a cramped apartment and to be tempted to make bad decisions to fit in with certain crowds. That’s why, for the past 27 years, I have coached this program. I want to make sure you know that there are more options and opportunities out there for you.
When I was in high school, getting my diploma was important to me because I wanted to be somebody. On graduation day, I remember leaving my apartment in a cap and gown and walking to the parking lot past many of the guys I grew up with – guys who made different choices than I made – they all started clapping for me. Most of them did not graduate high school.
Today, I have a nice house, a family and a career, as I work as what’s known as a Quality Assurance Analyst for a software development company. I coach and mentor because I want you to do better than me. I coach and mentor because you all matter to me.
Life is a collection of the decisions you make. During these next four years, you have to put yourself in a position where you’re making good decisions. You will be exposed to a lot of negativity and bad behavior. Use other people’s mistakes as an example of what not to do. It’s OK to be different. It’s OK to be the kid that is not hanging around. Find a sport or an activity that keeps you busy. Spend time with people who share your interests and possess similar goals.
It won’t take much for your life to go spiraling downwards. Unfortunately, where we come from, there is little room for error.
But in those difficult moments when you’re facing a tough decision or even when you just need a friend, you can call me or message me. I will always be here for you.
My dream is for you to be whoever you want to be. And as I have told you, the greatness is already inside of you. Now, it’s up to you to do what it takes to reveal it.
I love you all. Stay determined. You can do this!