- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

As the football season opens and children head back to school, USA Football, the NFL and the NFL Players Association celebrate “Play Football Month” by gathering in places large and small across the nation. Football brings together countless cities, towns and counties in America. Communities from Washington to Fairbanks, Alaska are holding events to kick off another season.

While we celebrate our sport, we also are reminded of the significant role education has played in our success on and off the field. Though we grew up in different parts of the country, we received the same message at home — success in life starts with education.

We were good athletes as youngsters, but our parents always told us that without an education, we would not achieve our dream of playing professional football. They were right. While our success on the football field would open doors, it was our education that would keep those doors from closing. The first step toward achieving our dream was to do well in high school and attend college. We studied hard and were diligent about getting our homework done, keeping our grades up, and succeeding in school. We had teachers who were mentors. We had coaches who taught us the value of hard work, discipline and sacrifice. With the support and direction of our parents, teachers and coaches, we graduated from high school and were awarded scholarships to college. The rest is history. We played well, graduated and were drafted by the Washington Redskins.

We never forgot that it was our education that afforded us the opportunity to play football at the highest level and later go into business.

Each school year, students across America work toward achieving their own goals. Whether they aspire to be engineers, librarians, doctors, actors, firefighters or professional football players, the first step to realizing their dreams is success in the classroom. Yet academic success does not always come easily and most definitely does not emerge without the collaborative efforts of teachers, parents, coaches and mentors. Unfortunately, too many students in the District of Columbia are not given the opportunities we experienced as children. It is alarming that only one of every three students graduate from high school in the D.C. Public Schools System. The District’s poor high school graduation rate is clouding the promise and potential of so many young people. Where’s the public outrage we hear when the Redskins aren’t winning? Where’s the outcry for accountability in student achievement? While it’s easy to call for increased spending and point fingers, neither provides a solution. Just like the highest payroll in professional sports does not guarantee a winning team on the field, the District’s level of spending hasn’t led to achievement in the classroom. In fact, District students continually finish near the bottom of national assessment ranks.

Rather than placing blame, we should ask ourselves what we are doing to make a difference. Establishing a strong bond within the community is an important key to nurturing the future and ensuring that every child is given hope.

The Good Samaritan Foundation is the result of a vision that we, along with former teammates Tim Johnson and Earnest Byner, have that all children ought to have the skills, training and resources necessary to compete successfully in society. Our mission, based on our commitment to prepare youth for leadership in the community and the workplace, comes to fruition through STOP (Student Training Opportunity Program), our Foundation’s employment and leadership development initiative.

STOP is a year-round youth-development program that provides a safe place and adult supervision for high school students. There they can work on their homework, strengthen academic skills and develop social skills, explore their interests and participate in moral development and other meaningful activities that help them build positive character traits and a sense of civic responsibility.

“Play Football Month” is the perfect time to focus on ensuring that all children are given the same opportunities we had on the field and in the classroom so that they too can dream big and achieve success. As legendary Coach George Allen said, “The future is now,” which in this case means making sure we are educating the District’s children.

Art Monk is a USA Football board member and a former All-Pro Washington Redskins wide receiver. Charles Mann is a former All-Pro Washington Redskins Defensive lineman. Together they founded the Good Samaritan Foundation and are partners in Alliant Merchant Services.

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