Thanks to Ron Yary, a former Outland Trophy winner at USC and Minnesota Vikings all-pro tackle, and Dr. Casey Cooper, a noted sports psychologist, the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame have established the Legacy Leadership Program here in Orange County. Through this program, Hall of Fame members mentor and establish a one-on-one relationship with deserving high school football players, which lasts a year or more.
The program goals are to help motivate and inspire high school players to make better choices on the field and, even more importantly, in the classroom and the community.
But this isn't just a feel-good program. Each Hall of Famer participates in a two-hour training session that provides insights for their mentoring. Then they sign a participation agreement whereby they promise to uphold the program's policies and guidelines.
Each Orange County high school can nominate one football player. The applicants and their parents will go through a brief orientation that spells out the benefits, guidelines and responsibilities required by their participation. Among other things, confidentiality and child abuse issues are discussed. Unfortunately, only two applicants can be selected, so the competition is fierce.
To qualify as a mentee, the football player must be entering his senior season, be a leader on his team, be highly regarded by his coach and have the ability to play football in college or professionally. The candidate may need some special focus and guidance to improve his classroom performance, and may also face adversity at home.
It is more than an honor to be nominated, because during the selection process applicants can attend several sessions dealing with athletic life skills training. Last year two of the presenters were former UCLA star running back from Tustin, DeShaun Foster, and former Long Beach Poly and USC linebacker and Super Bowl great Willie McGinist. Among other things, the presentations emphasized the importance of an education, and how it affects both their football careers and also their lives after their playing days are over.
The program coordinator monitors the mentees and Hall of Famers through personal contact and phone calls to ensure that both sides are satisfied.
Last year the committee selected Victor Silva of Godinez High School and Trey Madden from Mission Viejo High School as mentees. Victor has been mentored by Yary, and Trey's mentor has been Michael Haynes of the Patriots and Raiders.
These two young men also were invited as guests at last summer's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio. They were even able to be on the sidelines during the 2010 Hall of Fame game between Dallas and Cincinnati, where they had the opportunity to meet all the players and have private conversations with the other Hall of Famers.
After their Canton experiences, both young men were hosted at the Newport Sports Museum (and if you haven't visited that museum, you are really missing out!), and those in attendance said that it was really noticeable how the experience had changed them — for the better. Both appeared to have more confidence, and had developed more of a leadership attitude of helping their teammates and others both on and off the field.
This year's winners were just announced. They are Alipa Peters from Estancia High School and Alfonso Cacciatore from El Modena High School. So it will be interesting to see how they progress.
In addition to a great experience for all of the applicants and the two selected athletes, the program also provides an ongoing relationship with community partners, such as sports psychologists and sports museums, in an effort to provide mentoring and leadership to a larger number of young athletes.
As has been discussed several times in this column, someone will mentor our children. And if it is not their parents, coaches, scout or religious leaders or teachers, it will be drug dealers, members of juvenile gangs or other thugs. Because, say what you will, Charles Manson was really effective in finding and "mentoring" the lost souls that made up his "family."
So please join me in applauding Yary, Dr. Cooper, the NFL and the many other forces behind the Legacy Leadership Program in mentoring some of our young athletes. And maybe their action will stimulate all of us to redouble our efforts in establishing and maintaining mentoring other programs of our own.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), and can be contacted at JimPGray@wsbcglobal.net.