This blog was created as an outlet for my thoughts on how the adult generation influences young people, and the importance of sending the right messages to the next generation of Leaders.

My goal is to get people to think critically about life, through the context of sports,"

Thanks

TRP

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Story of Dick Leftridge

A Forgotten Pioneer or Simply Ignored

Quick by a show of hands how many of you ever heard of Dick Leftridge before today? I have to confess I too never heard of Mr. Leftridge until recently, when I was contacted by his son Jack Richard Leftridge Jr. The younger namesake is on a quest to have his father’s name and accomplishments remembered and properly acknowledged in the history books. The timing of this movement could not have come at a better time in lieu of the highly anticipated release of the Disney movie ”The Express” due to open in theaters. The Express is based on the life of the late Syracuse great Ernie Davis who was the first African-American football player to win the Heisman (1961).
Like Mr. Davis all accounts point to the fact that Dick Leftridge was a pioneer in his own right, according to my research and a synopsis received from his son, Dick Leftridge was the first African-American to receive a football scholarship to play for a major college in the south, after he signed with West Virginia University in 1962, which at the time played in the Southern conference, below the Mason Dixon line. The recruitment and signing of Dick Leftridge accompanied by the subsequent signing of another black player Roger Alford represented a shift in the culture at the university. According to Richard Leftridge Jr., WVU was not his father’s first choice despite being a hometown product (Hinton, WV), he wanted to attend Ohio State to play for the legendary Woody Hayes; however the elder Leftridge bowed to the pressure he received from boosters to local politicians all of whom wanted him to stay home and play at WVU. According to the document even the local chapter of the NAACP encouraged Leftridge to attend the local university and be the one who broke the color barrier at WVU. Dick Leftridge played for WVU from 1963-1965 during that time he put up some impressive stats he was the leading ground gainer and scorer each of his three years at WVU, in 1965 he was named Amateur Athlete of the year by the West Virginia Sports writer Association. Dick Leftridge was the first African-American to play for the south team in the North-South Shrine game in 1965, he was also the first African-American named to the University of Pittsburgh All-Opponent team, and Dick Leftridge was also the first African-American voted to the second teams all south conference.
A few of you older Pittsburgh Steelers fans may remember Dick Leftridge as the team’s first round pick in 1966 he was chosen third overall that year, he was also a fourth round selection of the AFL’s Miami Dolphins that same year. Unfortunately Dick Leftridge only played one unspectacular season for the Steelers and many fans and media personnel labeled him a bust. This is where the story gets interesting; there are varied accounts as to why an athlete with so much promise lasted only one season in the NFL? Depending on whose version you believe some say Dick Leftridge, simply didn’t have the desire and discipline to make it, there are stories that say he simply “ate” his way out of the league by putting on too much weight to be effective as an elite running back, according to one article on Mr. Leftridge written in the Hinton Daily News (7/19/66), the Steelers had a weight clause put in his contract, the fine print read that every pound over 230 he brought to camp would carry a $50 fine, however in an interview with a reporter of the Charleston Daily News (9/26/85) Mr.Leftridge gave a different account of the events, he is quoted as saying the “Steelers put in the papers that I weighed 300 pounds when I reported. Everybody believed that and they still do. I admit I was lazy sometimes, but I wasn’t fat. I weighed 242 pounds when I reported; Hell all I know is how to play football. That’s all I’ve ever done. I was just a poor boy from Hinton (WV). How could people think I’d throw away a chance to make a million dollars? I’d never turn my back on that”.
Controversy seemed to follow Leftridge from WVU through his short pro career he was dismissed from school in the middle of the semester of his senior year a few days after he played his last collegiate game and his eligibility was done, in 1976 he would return to school to complete his degree. The younger Leftridge is also quick to point out that his dad was no saint; he wrestled with his own demons once his football career finally ended. He shared details of his father’s checkered past this included time spent in Detroit working in the automotive industry, and making questionable decisions to get involved in the drug game as a dealer both in Detroit and upon his return to his hometown, as a result of being on the wrong side of the law, Mr. Leftridge was sentenced to a five year stint in federal prison (1987). According to his son while the elder Leftridge sat in prison there were a number of alleged verbal, mental and physical harassment of the family on the streets and places of employment.
He also shared stories of his frustration in getting his dad’s story told and published. “I’ve contacted a lot of people, especially the African-American celebrities I see and hear in the media and received little to no interest, I’m not sure if the story is too controversial or what? He’s also faced an uphill battle in getting WVU to properly acknowledge his father’s achievements and historic significance for the Mountaineers. According to Richard JR. the school didn’t really acknowledge his accomplishments until his death and even then the school just published a short blurb, to this day he still has not been inducted into their Hall of Fame. Now the critics will argue that being inducted should not be based on race as a criteria for selection, and you should be judged strictly on athletic achievements , on the flip side supporters can point out his stats and some of his awards (mentioned earlier) and in this case his being the first African-American player at WVU, during a time of tumultuous unrest (Civil Rights Era) in this country’s history, should be taken into consideration alongside his on field performance, he was and still is the schools highest ever NFL draft pick. Does Dick Leftridge deserve to be inducted in the WVU Hall of fame? I’ll let you decide. In my humble opinion I think the story of Dick Leftridge is one of intrigue, mystique and historical importance and one that needs further exploration, if any of you would like to assist the younger Leftridge on his journey to promote his dads story (he can be reached at jrljr63@yahoo.com), he would be very gracious, he is not seeking fame and fortune from this story, just a chance to share the legacy of a forgotten Pioneer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Defeating the Giant Within

2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

What a powerful sermon the young pastor preached today about that four letter word that begins with “F”. That special word that has robbed so many of their dreams and evokes such negative emotions the minute you hear it. Of course I’m talking about the word FEAR. The atmosphere in the church was electrified as the pastor stood on the pulpit exhorting the congregation on ways to overcome their anxiety and how our lives would be greatly enriched once we mastered the technique of tuning out those negative voices in our head. You know that voice the one that comes as you are about to embark on something new and step out of your comfort zone. I’m referring to that nagging voice that penetrates your subconscious and is constantly discouraging you from taking action and moving forward to realize your potential. It suddenly came to me how often as a coach I’m often called upon to help the young athletes in my program get through this paralyzing emotion on a regular basis. In a competitive sport like basketball there are pressure situations that manifest throughout the contest, particularly during what is known as “crunch time” the end of game moments in which one play or lack thereof could determine the outcome. I think It’s amazing the time many of today’s athletes spend going through rigorous physical training to get their bodies in peak conditioning, yet, spend very little time preparing for the mental challenges of facing and handling pressure situations. Many of these individuals would rather not face the ridicule and scrutiny that’s sure to follow should their efforts fall short, (missed shot at the buzzer) the pressure to perform when it matters most, is scary and a situation many try to avoid.

Below are a few strategies I share with my athletes to help them prepare and overcome FEAR (on and off the courts)

1.At the beginning of the season I have the team write out specific goals they want to achieve for the current season this exercise helps them to set clear, concise and attainable goals it also helps to train their minds to focus on how they will reach their objectives. Many people can envision what they desire, but have difficulty in seeing how to get their dreams to materialize there’s something powerful and unlocking when they write the goals down. Utilizing visual images (a picture or physical sample) are also effective. For a team you could use a replica championship trophy or banner as the visual. At the beginning of each season I to write down specific goals for the team, This blue print helps me formulate practice plans complete with special situations, specific drills and exercises needed to help the team prepare to face challenges.

2. Another exercise I put the team through is to have them share their goals out loud in a group setting for accountability. I believe if you feel so strongly about obtaining something you want and desire, you should have no problem sharing it publicly. What I often notice is a growing confidence that emerges through this activity as individuals stand up in front of the group to share their goals at first with trepidation that quickly dissipates into strong conviction, after all if they don’t truly believe in what they are saying how can they expect others to? This is important as they begin to paint a picture for the audience to follow. It’s important to note that I also point out to them that not everyone will share their enthusiasm, or zeal. But they should not let that discourage them.

3. I encourage them to face Fear head on, you have to desire something so badly or develop an intense yearning to change your current situation that nothing will hold you back. If there is a particular team I know we have a difficult time matching up with, they may have better athletes or play a particular style that gives us problems (press style defense) I try to get the team to breakdown what they view as insurmountable into manageable parts and learn how to aggressively attack the GIANT. We still may not win the game, but the outcome won’t be as a result of being intimidated.

4. Lastly when all else fails in preparing them to confront their fears my goal is simply just getting them to start the process. You see many people become so paralyzed by fear that they never begin taking actions that will lead to the desired results. By taking some type of action toward a specific goal signals progress this could be as simple as starting an enhanced strength and conditioning program to the memorization of a document filled with motivational quotes or specific drills to improve their individual performance. Just by taking that first step helps quell those feelings of anxiety and doubt. A Large percentage of individuals never reach their goals and overcome fear, because they never take the first step!

©2008 Tony Price Unlimited LLC

Sunday, September 7, 2008

“The Long Shots” (A missed opportunity)

Who would have thought, I became one of the country’s tallest cheer-leader for at least 90 minutes anyway, while watching this movie score a touchdown, unfortunately the point after was missed as the movie is going to fall victim to low receipts at the box office, hence it will continue to be an uphill battle to convince Hollywood to produce similar movies. The movie Long shots starring Keke Palmer & Ice Cube now playing in theaters should have been a can’t miss affair. I thought Kenya Yarbrough wrote a great article (www.eurweb.com/story/eur46442.cfm) on the making of the movie with interviews from the two main characters. This is a fantastic family movie a real PG-13 no one’s dropping the F-Bomb and there’s no sexual scenes or references. I didn’t think these types of movies still existed. The movie was the all too familiar story of the underdog who overachieves, but with a unique twist, the movie is based on the true story of Jasmine Plummer an African-American girl who at the tender age of 11 made history by becoming the first girl to play Pop Warner Football and lead her team to the national championship game. As I sat in the theater observing to see who like myself felt the movie was worth the time and money, I was somewhat surprised and disappointed to see that most of the patrons were Caucasian. Where were the people of color? How can we at this critical time in history thanks to the political race, and the call for people of color in particular African-Americans to be featured in prime time television shows, not come out in huge numbers to support this movie? Is it because the story line was not believable has our psyche and self love been damaged so badly to the point that we can’t see ourselves in roles like this and believe it actually happened? Shame on us as this movie will have come and gone without a whimper and the Producers in Hollywood will have the data and ammunition needed to justify not making movies such as this but continue to churn out classics like soul plane and Norbit.
The movie was far more than a sports movie, it had family drama, a strong black male character, who despite being down on his luck still had morals, ethics and values, showed how a town was hard hit by the closing of factories(sound familiar) and how a youth team brought a community together. I find it ironic that in a country that loves to root for the underdog, movies that star minority groups (African-Americans and Females) in leading roles outside of the usual stereotypical characters often does poorly at the gate. I’ll use both of Keke Palmer’s movies as examples (Akeelah & the Bee, Long shot) two powerful and moving projects that were mediocre at the box office. I love Ms. Palmer as an actress and I hope she doesn’t try to grow up too fast and shed her good girl image (Brandy, Keisha Knight Pulliam, and Kyla Pratt). We don’t need any more young sisters doing sex scenes to show their versatility for future acting jobs. Yes there were the typical clich├ęs that played out in the movie , losing team turns season around going from worst to first making it against the odds from small town USA (think Bad News Bears,)but this movie was still a story that needed to be told, in my opinion if the main character had been based on a white female, the hype around the film would have been greater, played in more theaters, she would have been plastered on all the major print publications and done the entire talk show circuit, but alas this story was based on a young black girl who overcame tough odds to do something special, I guess that’s not interesting enough, maybe if she got pregnant along the way the movie would have been more appealing, oh that’s right as we recently found out on a national platform, black and Latina girls aren’t the only ones who have unprotected sex and become teenage moms, (Bristol Palin), if you don’t have the opportunity to catch the movie in theaters(hurry) at least purchase the DVD and show it to your children, they need to see that everyday people can also make history.
©2008, Tony Price Unlimited L.L.C

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reflections of A Father

Matthew 10:33 "Who ever denies me before men, I will also deny before my father who is in heaven"

The day has finally arrived the day my daughter finally left home for college,this time of the year thousands of young people are going through this same experience, but what make this case unique is that she's moving to the campus where I work. Not only will she be a student, but she will also play basketball, the sport her dad coaches, can you see the interesting dynamics that we both tried to avoid? I haven't coached her since she was 9 years old, but here we are facing a dilemma that is sure to be a challenge for both of us. I've already noticed how quickly she like her siblings at various times in the past is trying to distance herself from the connection to her dad. This is a very common occurrence for my children especially my sons, they want to prove that they got to where they are on their own merit and that I had nothing to do with it. The love of a father is critical for the development of young people and I know my children love me and I them even if the words are seldom spoken, and growing up the relationship between my father and I was vastly different than the ones I've developed with each of them. So I try to understand their perspective, however its perplexing at times to witness them make every effort to down play their association with their father.

My children have experienced some benefits as a direct result of being my child that others can only dream of, tickets to sporting events complete with locker room access, entrance into social functions, travel and the opportunity to attend one of the best private colleges in the country. My prayer is that one day they'll learn to appreciate the sacrifices endured to pave the way for them and the respect I've earned in doing so; took many years to achieve. This recent experience of helping my daughter move into her dorm room caused me to stop and reflect on the following, how many people are like my children when they experience blessings in their lives, get that opportunity they desired, the promotion at work or financial increase and yet try to distance themselves from the affiliation or connection to the "Heavenly Father". They place more emphasis on what others may think and crafting the perception of a self made person who made it by their own accord, through hard work , perseverance and talent with little or no assistance. I imagine at times God must feel like I do, proud to see his children mature, gain a sense of independence, enjoying the fruits of his labor and the burdens he bore only to have them do their best to keep their relationship with him private. As a parent it's my responsibility to provide for my children and I take that commitment seriously and if some perks come along with that, so be it. Hopefully as they continue to grow and develop into productive citizens and one day start families of their own they'll fully comprehend what it means to have a good name and how important the right associations are in opening doors for the next generation.

©2008 Tony Price Unlimited, LLC

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Magic of Black Men

"The Impact of seeing positive Black Men"those prophetic words kept ringing in my consciousness as I drove home after completing my second basketball clinic in 3 days. Over a 3 day span I had the pleasure of interacting with 200 inner city youths, teaching, speaking, laughing and having an overall great experience. A common theme ran as an undercurrent while teaching the participants the fundamentals of the game, the importance of them seeing black men in roles that counteracts the media's constant bombardment of negative portrayal and stereotypes. The awareness of this initiative is nothing new, but it's value can't be underestimated. As a basketball coach I was not surprised at the turnout of young people who came to the clinics, as I wrote in an earlier article "Sports The Unspoken Drug of the Black Community" about the powerful stronghold sports has on the community. The role of Sports in the black community is sacred, and too many of our future leaders and change agents think sports or entertainment are the only keys to unlock the doors of opportunities.

Yet there is something mystical that takes place when you are in the midst of these great minds. I can't really explain it in words, but there is a spirit coupled with a light of internal optimism and trust that shines within their eyes. This is the stage of their lives when they are the most vulnerable, receptive and influenced. I really treasure the girls and young woman who attend the clinics, there will never be a shortage of boys at sports clinic especially basketball, but the importance of having female participation can't be overlooked, our young sisters have to overcome a lot to participate in sports, many of them want to play but don't have the opportunities the boys have , they have to avoid the pitfalls of drugs,alcohol and pregnancy, often times they help raise younger siblings, can't find enough girlfriends interested in sports, not encouraged to play because it will make them too masculine, etc.
Quite a few of these young woman, have no meaningful relationships with their fathers or have been hurt by men they trusted including family members, not just the playa's, gangstas or thugs. So when I interact with them on the court I make a concerted effort to engage them with the balance of a disciplinarian to motivate them to work harder and not expect anyone to give them preferential treatment because of their gender, and blend that approach with the gentle touch and words of encouragement that comes from a father or uncle,(not ready to be a grandfather yet). This is an opportune time to show them that there are men in the community who love them unconditionally and not trying to "Get at Em"

The longer I'm in the athletics business the greater my appreciation grows and the realization of how blessed I am to be in a position to effectively change the lives of so many ,even if it's just for a day! I tip my hat to the hundreds of black men who are making a difference in the community with no fan fare or positive media coverage, keeping taking back the community one child at a time, when black men step up and give back the effects on young people are simply Magical!

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© 2008 Tony Price Unlimited, LLC