The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 2, 2013

A Bob Ettinger column: Life lessons

Meyer, Hood deliver messages of conviction, hope and dedication and 357 youngsters hang on every word

For the Star Beacon

HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP — Touchdowns and home runs are nice. Trips to Dairy Queen are much, much sweeter after wins than they are after losses. Youth sports, however, have never been about winning and losing.

Youth sports are about teaching fundamentals, for sure. But, greater than any skill learned through the repetition of practice, are the life lessons coaches teach youthful athletes.

Local youth and high school coaches got a bit of an assist at Spire on Monday. Urban Meyer and Dean Hood returned to Ashtabula County for the Urban Meyer/Dean Hood Football Camp at Spire, delivering messages of what it takes to not only be a great football player, but a good person, as well.

Hood, a 1982 Harbor grad and the head coach at Eastern Kentucky University, simply loves being on a football field with the youth of his sport. He would love nothing more than to positively affect even just one player.

“We’re just planting seeds,” he said. “One day, hopefully, those seeds will get watered.

“We have the greatest platform in America with that football field out there. It’s not a transaction you use only to get a result. We can use football to make (the young players) better husbands, dads and neighbors some day.”

Confined to the bleachers for the duration of the three-hour camp, the parents had little idea what messages Hood and Meyer were passing along. They could see, however, that their sons were hanging on every word.

“I know whatever it was, it was pretty powerful,” Charity Riffle, whose sons, Camden Belmonte, 9, and Connor Bryson, 6, and nephew, Bryan Robison, 11, attended, said. “It captured all of their attention.

“I’ve never seen 500 kids sit so still.”

Hood was the first to speak to the 357 campers. He explained how a simple thought can turn into a young man’s destiny.

“Thoughts lead to what?” Hood asked. “Doing. Doing something over and over again becomes what — habit. If you do it over and over again, it becomes your character.

“That builds one day at a time and becomes destiny.”

The campers weren’t left to ponder those thoughts long before Hood let them know exactly how to avoid a destiny they’d rather avoid.    

“When you have a thought, I want you to ask yourself three questions,” he said. “First, ask yourself is it going to hurt somebody if you do it? Number two, will you have to hide something if you do it? Number three, would you tell somebody younger than yourself to do it?”

Hood explained why that third question was important.

“You guys are role models, I guarantee it,” he said. “We’re all born originals, but we die copies. We all copy somebody.”

Later, the groups were addressed by Chris Willertz, who works with SportsLeader, a virtue-based non-profit organization that specializes in mentoring and motivation for coaches, had his turn in front of the youngsters.

Willertz’s message was about the importance teammates holding each other accountable. He related the story of how Dallas Cowboy Josh Brent killed his teammate and best friend in a drunk-driving accident.

“They didn’t hold each other accountable,” Willertz said. “(Brown) didn’t tell his teammate he shouldn’t be driving drunk.”

Throughout the day, the players moved from station. Hood had the boys break down with different things as they moved from station to station. Early in the day, the message was to tell the truth. Later, it became “be a gentleman.”

“There are two parts to that, ‘gentle’ and ‘man,’” Hood told the campers. “The first part is being gentle, whether that means saying please and thank you or hugging your sister or you mother.

“The second part is to be a man. A man accepts his responsibilities.”

Meyer, a 1982 St. John grad and the head coach at Ohio State University, addressed the youngsters before sending them off to lunch.

“The Ohio State Buckeyes, two years ago, lost seven games,” he said. “Everybody wants to blame the players and coaches. Then everybody wants to blame the coaches. That’s absolutely not true. There was something wrong inside the team.

“I saw the team change for a lot of reasons. They became great teammates. Braxton, Sabino and Simon became guys on the team who could be counted on. They didn’t want to let each other down.”

The young players took the words of their heroes to heart.

“I have to work hard and have respect for my teammates if I want us to win games,” James Campbell III, 14, said. “They’re trying to me a better person.

“I have to make good choices.”  

The boys appreciated that Meyer and Hood took the initiative to help them.

“It means a lot that they took their time (to come today),” Jake Stimson, 14, said. “They could’ve been doing something else and they were teaching us.”

That Meyer and Hood would take the time out of their hectic schedules to try and influence their sons in even the smallest way gains a lot of currency with the parents of the campers.

“That was very important,” James Campbell Jr. said. “It was a great message.

“That helps us (as parents) tremendously to have those messages come from multiple angles.”

“It’s encouraging that there are coaches out there who are giving the correct message about the whole picture and not just the game,” Chris Severino, whose sons Seth, 11, and Mark, 12, were campers.

“That’s what you hope for. You want to expose them to role models like that.”

“That means the world to me,” Riffle said. “My two boys definitely look up to those guys. They hung on every word. To see them use those words wisely was important to me.

“I know I will be hearing about this day for years to come.”

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at