City Councilman Kenny Hardin Reports on the GAME PLAN FOR LIFE held Tuesday Morning at the Concord Opportunity School in Concord, N.C.

Posted on April 26, 2017

Kenny Hardin, Salisbury City Councilman (Reprinted with Permission)

♦ I had the honor and pleasure of attending the kick off session of the Coach Joe Gibbs Game Plan for Life program this morning. The event was held at the Concord Opportunity School in Concord, NC. I appreciate the personal invitation extended to me from the School’s Principal Beverly Threatt Belton. Although I’ve participated in this program for several consecutive years now, this was the first time I’ve visited the Concord school. I left very impressed.

Cabarrus Opportunity School:

As always, the GPFL staff were very welcoming and appreciative for all those who came out to participate. Each person who volunteered their time signed a large program placard left with the school to display. The event kicked off with Principal Belton offering a rousing welcome and heartfelt thanks to the program sponsors and attendees. She shared the significance of the Program and the impact its participants have had on her personally as well as on her students over the years. She then turned the mic over to Terry Osborne, CEO of the Rowan/Kannapolis ABC Board. He along with Chris Sifford are principal organizers of this Concord event. Mr. Osborne kicked off the event with his usual upbeat motivational style while introducing the GPFL ‘s Executive Director, Renaldo Wynn who was a standout at Norte Dame and had an illustrious NFL career, got the students motivated sharing humorous stories of his playing days as he rode Patriots and Cowboys fans with his sacks of Tony Romo and Tom Brady. The banter was great and he used expert communication skills and techniques to move the students into more serious topics of how he found success after growing up through family challenges of alcoholism, drug addiction, an absentee father, and his own poor choices. He tied all of that together to support the GPFL theme that “decisions determine direction.” He stressed through offering examples of his own poor decisions early in his life that it’s never too late to change behavior and make better decisions. He then introduced the first speaker, Antonio Stevenson.

Mr. Stevenson is the Founder and CEO of My Brothers Second Chance (MBSC), an 11 year old mentoring organization based in Winston-Salem, NC dedicated to educating, empowering, and enhancing the lives of youth. Mr. Stevenson set the tone from the outset respectfully asking everyone to sit up straight in their chairs. He is an imposing figure, large in stature and has a big deep voice to match.
The majority of the students adhered immediately and for the ones who opted not to, he provided a glimpse of what awaited them in their future. His remarks were littered with appreciation for teachers and recognized the difficult task they have. He reminded students several times to show respect for teachers in both speech, interactions and physical demeanor. Mr. Stevenson did not shy away from admitting he didn’t always adhere to his own advice. He shared that his athletic prowess and record setting exploits in high school and at WSSU caused him to live a life contrary to good decision making. He shared how his arrogance and lack, of humility nearly cost him his life through gun violence, and could’ve derailed his dream of the NFL he enjoyed with Tampa Bay later.

He shared how he ignored his mother’s pleas one night and went out partying after a college football victory. Instead of avoiding a group of locals he didn’t know, he arrogantly and foolishly pushed his way through the middle of them. One young kid took exception and fired two shots that pierced his body and nearly took his life. The doctors had no confidence that he would survive and called his mother in to say her farewell. This was a life changing event for him and set him on the right path.

One of the most emotionally touching parts of his presentation came as he concluded his remarks and asked for questions from the students. A young man of about 13 or 14 raised his hand and spoke out boldly asking how could he do all that Mr. Stevenson just shared about being a man when he didn’t have a father in his life to guide and teach him. The room fell eerily quiet as there was a slight pause before he answered. He called the young man up to the front of the room and placed his big burly arms around the thin young man and embraced him tightly. He told the young man that he would not try to step in and be his father, but that if he ever needed guidance, to talk, or just a male presence, he would jump in his vehicle and drive from Winston Salem to be there for him. He gave the young man his personal contact information and encouraged him to call him. He the told the young man of his life growing up without a father and assured him he would be fine and make the right choices. That moment transformed the room as it was obvious it resonated with many others.

Mr. Stevenson spoke candidly about choosing the right friends and shared how many of his friends that also made poor choices are either dead or incarcerated. He shared how he now sends money to a friend’s Prison account because his release date is “Released when deceased.” He closed out his presentation talking with the students about bullying and not getting involved in the practice.
Wynn took over the microphone again and asked Mr. Stevenson to come back to the front. He reiterated the point about choosing friends wisely and not getting involved in gangs. He asked Mr. Stevenson to remove his suit jacket and roll up his sleeves to show the students his previous gang affiliation. He obliged and pointed out six tattoos that he said were examples of six mistakes he made in his life. He added that four out of six of his friends he associated with the tattoos are now dead. Powerful.

I’ve heard UNC Tarheel basketball legend and NBA great Al Wood’s story several times over the past few years. Interestingly, when I think I know it, he adds a new wrinkle that leaves me surprised, but with much more respect and admiration for him. He didn’t start his presentation of regaling the students with stories of Michael Jordan, Dean Smith or playing with other NBA legends. No, he came out of the gate, with his voice cracking and fighting back tears, sharing that his father left the family when he was. 3 years old and his mother was sent to prison a few years later for murder. He said he often went to school hungry, without bathing and living in a house with no utilities. After saying all that, he assured the students he was no victim and would not play a victim role. He shared the hurt of not having a father to teach him things or attend his athletic events, but said again he was not a victim.

He spoke honestly about foolish decisions to try alcohol in college for the first time and continue that life along with gateways drugs after signing a multimillion dollar NBA contract. He talked openly about how many opportunities and second chances to make the right decisions he squandered. He shared two specific examples that should have woken him up nut and put him on the right path but they didn’t. He spoke of being in a nightclub where a female patron was shot and fell into his arms covering him in blood. The assailant escaped and he was initially questioned as the shooter. He shared another instance where he fell asleep at the wheel and his car left  the road crashing into a ditch. Neither close calls changed his direction.

Again with deep emotion in his voice and fighting hard against the tears, he shared how his three year old son brought a picture of him in his Tarheel uniform. His son had drawn liquor bottles all around him on the picture. He said hearing his young son’s words of that’s how he saw his father was the catalyst for him to change direction. He said he drove to Atlanta, checked into a Rehab facility and has not touched any substance since 1989.

Wood also spoke of bullying and offered the great line of “If an elephant steps on an ant does it make him taller? Putting someone down doesn’t make you bigger or better.” He also cautioned the kids on the dangers of social media and urged them to be careful on things they posted. Wood concluded by sharing a personal story of how he made the decision to study instead of sitting in the back of the room doing enough to get by. He said after spending a week studying for a history test in Middle School, he ended up making the highest grade in the class. That decision changed his outlook on education.
The session ended with all the teachers and administrators being recognized and called down front for a group photo. They were given a huge round of applause as they came forward. Autographed pictures were given, JGR racing hats were distributed and the speakers were swarmed by eager students with questions. The program moves to the Rowan Salisbury School System for the remainder of the week. Other former professional athletes are slated to visit all the area High Schools.

Photo Gallery of the Game Plan for Life at the Concord Opportunity School:

Kenny Hardin “Decisions Determine Direction”:

This Young Man Asked How He Could Become a Man without a Father in His life:

Reynaldo Wynn, Former Washington Redskins Star:

Al Wood UNC Tarheel Basketball Great:

Chris Sifford and Kenny Hardin:

Terry Osborne, speaking to the young people at Game Plan for Life:

Al Wood UNC Basketball Star:

Principal Beverly Threatt Belton:

Antonio Stevenson, Former Tampa Bay Star:

Teachers and Administrators:

Terry Osborne and Chris Sifford:

Kenny Hardin and Terry Osborne:

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