Super Bowl champ teaches leadership at school camp

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 24, 2018

 A pair of middle school students try to carry a ball between their backs without using their hands as part of a cooperation exercise during a program for youths at Orchard Lake Middle School Aug. 21.

A pair of middle school students try to carry a ball between their backs without using their hands as part of a cooperation exercise during a program for youths at Orchard Lake Middle School Aug. 21.

Photo by Sean Work

 Participants in a “Life Is Your Playbook” camp write down the names of personal role models.

Participants in a “Life Is Your Playbook” camp write down the names of personal role models.

Photo by Sean Work

WEST BLOOMFIELD —They can move mountains. 

That is what every student who participated in a recent two-day camp should believe. 

Especially after meeting Greg Jones, a Michigan State University alumnus and an NFL linebacker for the New York Giants. The 2011 Super Bowl champion facilitated the camp Aug. 20-21 at Orchard Lake Middle School.

Lisa G. Berkey, executive director of the Greater West Bloomfield Community Coalition, said in an email that the coalition’s mission is to build community partnerships to reduce high-risk behaviors — including drinking alcohol and using tobacco and other drugs — to help ensure that young people may grow to their greatest potential.

The camp invited school boys from Orchard Lake Middle School and Abbott Middle School to learn “knowledge and skills needed for today’s youth using several different life plays” focusing on leadership and development, Berkey said.  

The camp, called “Life Is Your Playbook,” teaches techniques to keep young people from participating in destructive behaviors.

Berkey said that no community and no ethnic background is immune to drugs or alcohol issues, and the coalition believes education and alternative coping skills are key.

“It is everywhere; vaping is everywhere,” she said of e-cigarettes.

“We definitely want to teach the kids the dangers,” she said. Helping them to know their own value and to think about what they want for their future — and what they need to do to get there — builds positive self-esteem, she said.

Jones spoke to about 20 young people in a classroom on the second day of the camp Aug. 21.

“What did we take away from yesterday?” he asked the group of students. “We talked about encouragement.”

One student said the group talked about respect and listening to what people say.

“Giving respect — how did that make you feel?” Jones asked.

One student said that it “feels good, especially when having close friends.”

OLMS seventh-grader Christopher Williams said he learned how to listen better and to be a better leader.

“I really liked listening, because you have to listen to other people’s problems and stuff,” he said earnestly. “You have to listen to them. ... You have to … actually have a conversation with them too.”

Williams said that when he grows up he wants to become an NBA basketball player, but he has high hopes for a backup career.

“If I can’t be that, I would just find out what (else) to do, (become) a lawyer or something,” he said. The camp was a positive experience for him, “just to be around somebody like this and see what it is just to be an NFL player (has) been through ... and everything. I’ve not met someone (before) on his status level.”

At the tail end of Jones’ talk, some kids asked him questions about going to the Super Bowl with the New York Giants.

“You played Tom Brady?” one kid asked, while another kid in the background opined that someone else in the game needs to retire.

“Who needs to retire?” Jones asked.

“Eli Manning,” the kid said.

Jones said that he works with the Auburn Hills-based Alliance Coalition for Healthy Communities’ Keep Them Safe, Keep Them Healthy! program, which supports “Life Is Your Playbook.” 

He said that he and his wife give talks and presentations to young women and young men about leadership and more.

Jones said he felt that he needed to create a program for athletes, by athletes, that encompasses leadership traits beyond the field.

“What it is evolved to something for all students, because sometimes kids think it is just a football camp and things like that, and it is not. We did not touch a single football,” he said of the two-day camp.

Berkey said that the Alliance Coalition decided to focus on leadership for middle school boys to help them with building character and becoming leaders in their schools.

She said Jones likes to concentrate on helping kids work toward a purpose and seeing the end goal.

“They did activities that taught them that and what makes up a leader; you have to be trusted and build trust and build relationships. … You can’t just walk into a group of 20 kids and say, ‘I’m a leader,’” she said.

She said this program is a first at OLMS, and its success will be evaluated for a possible repeat event.

During one segment of the camp, pairs of boys stood back to back with a ball in between. The object of the activity was to learn to communicate to keep the ball held between their backs as they walked around. Naturally, hilarity ensued as some kids did not communicate well.

Jones said that “Life Is Your Playbook” is based on his own life experiences.

“Whether it be my mistakes or some of the success I’ve had in my career and making right decisions,” he said. “What they learned are more tools to make the right decisions in their lives, and that is what it boils down to.” 

Tracy Chirikas, Oakland County Families Against Narcotics coordinator and development manager, said during the event that the boys can move mountains and do what they set their minds to do — if they follow through.

She said the “Life Is Your Playbook” program is about developing leadership qualities — something that can be missing or misunderstood.

“When we look at it and understanding that we are a leader on or off the field, it doesn’t mean we are a boss,” Chirikas said. “What does it mean to lead?”

She said the boys in the program were hand-picked and are “really amazing.”

For more information, go to www.gwbcoalition.org or www.achcmi.org.

For more information on Jones, find him on Twitter or Instagram, or call (513) 226-4306.