Sundays Super Bowl game was exciting and featured the outstanding play of several young men from our area, Jacoby Jones, Patrick Willis and Michael Oher.
Each of these guys has a phenomenal personal story that makes their arrival at the summit of professional football even more special and leaves me proud to be from the area that showed them love and support.
Because of their stories, this Super Bowl was especially interesting to me, but I have followed the 49ers for a long time because of a guy named Harry Sydney.
Harry is a former professional football player whose position was running back. He started his pro career in the USFL with the Denver Gold and the Memphis Showboats, and after three years headed to the 49ers where he played on two Super Bowl teams.
He earned another Super Bowl ring with the 1996 Green Bay Packers as a coach.
He lives in Green Bay and a few years ago founded the nonprofit organization, My Brother’s Keeper, which mentors young men, but I met Harry when we lived in Kansas and Harry was racking up yards at KU.
At the time, I taught third grade for the local school district and one of my students was a little boy named Ronald.
Ronald came to my class late that fall after being placed with a foster family. This was his second placement. The first foster family had taken him and his twin sister, but had decided not to keep Ronald because he roamed through the house during the night and they felt he was checking on them.
After learning that he and his sister wound up in the care of the state after they were found abandoned in an empty apartment, I didn’t blame him for checking to make sure the grownups were still around.
In October, Ronald’s foster mom called to see if he could handout invitations to his birthday party the next Saturday afternoon. There was no policy that said he couldn’t, so the next day Ronald brought an invitation for each of the other boys in the class.
As the receivers coach for KU, my husband had left with the team the night before for the away game, and on Saturday afternoon I listened to the game on the radio while I cleaned the house.
KU won and Harry Sydney had a phenomenal day. I had turned off the radio and was about to drag out the vacuum cleaner when the phone rang. I was surprised to hear Ronald’s foster mom’s voice since I knew his birthday party should be in full swing.
“How’s the party going?” I asked.
I still remember the pain in her voice as she replied, “Nobody came.”
My heart sank as I asked, “How is Ronald?”
“He’s hurt and covering that up with anger.”
We talked a while longer and when we hung up I thought, “This kid could use a break!”
By the time our resident coach arrived home a few hours later tired from the game and travel, a plan had taken form and two calls were made – one to Harry Sydney and one to Ronald’s house.
The next afternoon while the coaches watched film, I drove to the athletic dorm where Harry was waiting. In his letterman jacket, he looked every inch the stellar athlete that he was.
As he got in the car, I noticed he had something tucked underneath his jacket. During the ride to Ronald’s house I thanked him for agreeing to make this visit and told him more about Ronald’s dilemma.
Ronald was waiting at the door when we arrived and he couldn’t take his eyes off Harry. Neither could Ronald’s foster mom and after a few minutes Harry said, “Ronald, lets you and me go talk in your room.”
After only ten or fifteen minutes the pair returned. This time Ronald was wearing a KU jersey and a smile.
On the way back to the dorm Harry gave me the gist of their conversation, “He was pretty mad and planned on going to school on Monday and taking em all on, but I told him that on Monday he really ought to thank them for not coming to his party because if they had come I wouldn’t have and he wouldn’t have that jersey!”
In her journal Mother wrote, “God supplies most people with the personal and financial abilities to respond to the needs of others.”
Like so many people in the lives of Patrick, Michael and Jacoby, Harry took time to make a difference in the life of a child, and apparently he continues to do so.