NFL’s 2010 Season Kickoff and A Coach You Should Know

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tonight is the official NFL opening kickoff of the 2010 season. The New Orleans Saints will be going head to head with the Minnesota Vikings! Will you be watching?

There’s one man in particular who I wonder if he will be tuning in – Harold Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Name doesn’t ring a bell? I’d be surprised if you did recognize it. But ask Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem, and he’ll know who you’re talking about.

Before Meachem was a Super Bowl champion, a rising star at the University of Tennessee or even raising eyebrows at Booker T. Washington High School, he started his football career as a “Mabee Babie.” That is, during his elementary school years Meachem played football at The Salvation Army’s North Mabee Boys & Girls Club in Tulsa. Harold Williams was his coach.

A lot of time and events have passed since Meachem ran the Mabee field as a 4th grade football hopeful, but he still calls his old coach every now and then wanting to know how the Mabee Mustangs are doing. A pro football player keeping tabs on his elementary-years team? I know, it sounds strange, but then again, you wouldn’t be so surprised if you knew Coach Williams.

Williams left a paid position at a private high school to volunteer at The Salvation Army’s North Mabee Center where he’s been coaching for 22 years now. It was a significant change going from a privileged, private high school to a community center in what was known as one of Tulsa’s “tougher” neighborhoods, but Williams’ relationship to his team has always more resembled that of a loving parent than merely a coach.

Many times when talking to me about his team, Williams equated the boys to family. “It was like I had 40 sons. When dads were missing, I had no problem stepping in,” he said. “[My team] always said, ‘Coach loves us.’ I’d say, ‘I hope you know me and like my face because I’m going to know you the rest of your life. I love you because you are.’ ”

Over the decades he’s poured much of himself into the boys who have passed in and out of the football program. Even when the predominantly black team was pelted with racial slurs from their competitors, Williams has taught his Mabee Mustangs the importance of good sportsmanship and following the rules. He’s scrounged up pads and bought out of his own pocket mouth guards for his entire team when they couldn’t afford the most basic football equipment. He’s thrown them pizza parties and planned field trips to local museums, again on his own dime. He’s taught them skills that have made them one of the most noticed and successful football programs in the area today and helped many go on to be notable college and professional players. (Including the Dallas Cowboys’ Felix Jones, Philadelphia Eagles’ Tony Brooks and his brother Reggie Brooks of the Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos’ Marcus Nash, NY Giants’ R.W. McQuarters and the list goes on…)

The lessons and example taught by Coach Williams are lifelong and life changing. His sacrifice has inspired many kids to reject the destructive temptations of the streets and spurred them on to reach their true potential, witnessed by many unknowing NFL and college football spectators.

So it’s not hard to see why Robert Meacham gives Williams a ring once in awhile or why other “Mabee Babies” drop by the Center to watch and assist with practices.

If you do catch the NFL kickoff tonight, enjoy the game and celebrate the official start of the season! But regardless of which team you’re rooting for, take a moment to appreciate the sacrifice of Salvation Army volunteer Harold Williams. Tonight’s game and many others would be a different story if it weren’t for his investment in young athletes.

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Athletes Emphasize Charitable Giving

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Washington Post reports that Washington, DC sports teams and athletes are increasingly focusing on charitable giving.

Staff writer Susan Kinzie says, “For reasons idealistic, self-serving or practical, athletes and teams are putting a greater emphasis on donating money, volunteering and helping local communities — with more commitment to providing real impact rather than just photo ops.”

As a DC resident, it’s nice to hear that my teams are giving back. Between the baseball, hockey, basketball and football teams, DC athletes are helping revitalize local neighborhoods, investing in cancer prevention, fighting hunger, supporting children’s education programs and addressing a load of other issues. With the unique voice and wide supporter base that comes with the territory, athletes have a great platform to get the message out on deserving causes and make lasting, positive impacts on communities and individuals.

I’ll admit though, sometimes I’m skeptical when I hear about big names pushing a cause. I wonder, do they really care about or have a genuine commitment to this issue they’re attaching themselves to? For me, sincerity is important.

What’s your take on athletes being active in philanthropy? Do you have a favorite athlete who’s an outspoken advocate for a charity or a cause? Does a sports/charity partnership make you more likely to support the members involved?

Felix Jones spends time coaching kids at The Salvation Army’s North Mabee Center in Tulsa, OK.
Felix Jones spends time coaching kids at The Salvation Army’s North Mabee Center in Tulsa, OK.

Since becoming a Salvation Army employee, I’m happy to say my skepticism has tempered after seeing athletes and teams from around the country give and serve generously through our organization in ways that have invaluably inspired and assisted those in need. Their collaboration with us has ranged from extended partnerships to isolated volunteer efforts. Some athletes have never been involved with the Army before, while others have actually been clients in our programs.

Maybe you root for some of the teams and players who have worked with us:

* Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys – He tutors students in ACT prep at The Salvation Army’s North Mabee Boys & Girls Club in Tulsa, OK and has served as a role model in other programs. He’s also pledged $25,000 to the North Mabee Center. Why? He played football at North Mabee as a kid and personally knows what a great impact it has on the local community.

* Robert Meacham, New Orleans Saints – Young aspiring football players received personal tips on playing the game from this Super Bowl Champion during a summer sports camp at The Salvation Army’s North Mabee Center in Tulsa. Yep, Meacham also grew up playing ball at the center with Jones.

* Julius Erving, NBA Hall of Famer – The b-ball legend is an advocate for exercise and sportsmanship for youth in Atlanta, where he hit the basketball courts as a kid at The Salvation Army. One way he gives back is through his annual “Dr. J” Biddy Ball tournament hosted this year at The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, with the help of other players including Cory Blackwell, Vincent Askew and Duane Causwell.

* Omaha Nighthawks (UFL) – These players not only helped establish two mentoring programs through a $25,000 donation to the Omaha Salvation Army Kroc Center, the Nighthawks also serve as mentors themselves! And they’re holding their training camp at the Kroc Center where kids and the community will have the opportunity to see their role models in action.

* Indianapolis Colts – From hosting Christmas toy drives to a $25,000 donation equally shared by The Salvation Army and 4 other non-profits, the Colts are community-focused. On top of that, their Senior VP Tom Zupancic just joined our Advisory Board!

* Philadelphia Eagles – When disaster struck Haiti, the team wanted to help. Eagles guard and Haiti native Max Jean-Gilles, Eagles linebacker Akeem Jordan and Eagles employees volunteered to help The Salvation Army and Numana pack nutritious meals for earthquake survivors.

* Dallas Cowboys – For 13, going on 14, years the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game halftime show marks the official launch of our Red Kettle Christmas Campaign. The annual campaign has raised more than $1 billion since the partnership began in 1997 and has helped the Army to serve 30 million people each year nationwide. Plus, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his wife, Gene, opened the Gene and Jerry Jones Family Center for Children – a Salvation Army child care center for low-income families in Irving, TX. Mr. Jones is now an Emeritus member of The Salvation Army’s National Advisory Board and his daughter and wife are active board members.

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