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  • What’s Your Price?

    Jan 14, 2010

    The recent ending of the 2009-2010 college football campaign, and the conclusion of another NFL season, has brought to light the very real reality that loyalty within the sports realm is lackluster at best. Motivated by money, power, prestige, and promotion, virtually everyone—coaches, players, and executives alike—is merely one contract offer away from “selling out.” How can an individual at one moment pay “lip service” to an organization—reaffirm their commitment—then at the next moment turn their back on the team that helped solidify their success?

    Now, I recognize that sports are, at any level, first and foremost a business. I understand that. Furthermore, I can appreciate anyone—regardless of vocation—who chooses to take advantage of a lucrative business opportunity when presented with it. I don’t fault that whatsoever. But the issue I struggle with is the ethics, or lack thereof, exemplified and associated with individuals who flip flop in their decision making, seemingly at will. 

    Does anyone mean what they say anymore? Shouldn’t your word still be your bond? Matthew 5:37 states, “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no,’ anything beyond these is of evil.” If we seek to instill characteristics like truthfulness and honesty into our children, and these same kids see the examples modeled by their favorite sports icons, how can we hope to build any morals and integrity into the next generation if they are not lived out in the present generation of leaders?

    In closing, it begs the question: If everyone has a price or sum of money in which they are willing to sacrifice their values and disgrace their name, “what’s your price?”

  • An emotional return to UCLA for gymnast Hamilton

    Jan 12, 2010

    By Jill Painter, Staff Writer

    Posted: 01/10/2010 02:30:23 AM PST

    Kim Hamilton Anthony returned to UCLA on Saturday in tears.

    It was the first time she'd been to Pauley Pavilion since finishing her All-American gymnastics career in 1990.

    She's slowly realizing the impact her career had on folks.

    One woman, in tears, explained how much Hamilton's life story inspired her.

    Hamilton, the first black gymnast to compete at UCLA, held the initial signing for her memoir, "Unfavorable Odds."

    In it, she details a tough upbringing in a rough neighborhood of Richmond, Va., where her father did drugs in front of her and had numerous disappearing acts.

    Through gymnastics, Hamilton earned a scholarship to UCLA and a whole new world opened up to her. But she found that she'd never really dealt with her old world until she wrote the book. It was such a therapeutic process that it took her 10 years to write. She even shelved the project for two years because it was too painful.

    But sharing her story was worth it for the 41-year-old Hamilton.

    "There were things that came up that I didn't want to deal with," Hamilton said Saturday. "I tried to stuff it all down. It affected all these other things. I didn't understand myself or how it was affecting me. I didn't want to deal with the mess. I just needed time to work through some certain things. I had to re-write some things from love, not anger."

    Hamilton lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. with her husband, Corwin Anthony, a former UCLA football player she met as a sophomore, and their two children. They are chaplains for Athletes in Action and work with Miami Dolphins players and their families. Tony Dungy and his wife, Lauren, wrote the foreword to her book.

    Hamilton travels the country as a motivational speaker and now is a first-time author on a book tour.

    Sandra Conyers, Hamilton's mom, flew in from Illinois for the event. She handled the money and watched with tears in her eyes as her daughter signed books.

    "This is unbelievable," Conyers said. "Every time I think about it, it brings tears. I'm so proud of her for persevering and not giving up. She had plenty of opportunities to do that, and she didn't. She had more potential to do something different than she believed. When you grow up and see everybody doing the same things, it's hard to picture yourself in a different manner."

    Mother and daughter met on Thursday at LAX in a tearful embrace.

    Conyers had read the book and wondered what she could've done differently. Hamilton told her she did the best she could and was her motivator. Hamilton said she sent her dad a copy of the manuscript and wanted to get his blessing, which he gave even though he's painted in a harsh light. The two even reconciled in 2008, which was prompted by the book.

    Hamilton said she had wanted to go to UCLA since she was 9, and her mom encouraged her even though no one in her family had gone to college. She admired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Wooden.

    On Friday, Hamilton spoke to the UCLA gymnastics team. She won an unprecedented three consecutive NCAA floor exercises from 1987-89 and was a member of the U.S. National Team and was inducted into the UCLA Hall of Fame.

    "I talked to them about choices and making the right ones," Hamilton said. "We have to believe we have the power to make choices. The only thing we have control over is our choices. We have to decide we're going to make the right ones."

    Many of Hamilton's former teammates crowded around her book signing at UCLA's season-opening gymnastics meet against Utah.

    They're all in town for a gymnastics reunion. They knew of her struggles, but most were eager to learn more about their friend.

    Maura Driscoll, a former UCLA gymnast and broadcaster, had some good reading material for her flight home to Boston.

    "She was definitely open to her story," Driscoll said. "She was a pioneer, a trailblazer. There were not a lot of African-American gymnasts, and she had to overcome a lot of things."

    Hamilton is proud to be a role model for young, black gymnasts even though she didn't have one. Her role model was Nadia Comaneci.

    When Hamilton went on her first road trip with a traveling gymnastics team, she stayed in a hotel for the first time. She saw the word "complimentary" on the Ramada Inn ice buckets and glasses and figured they were theirs for her to keep.

    Her mom found them when she unpacked her suitcase and explained to her that they weren't for her to take.

    Hamilton was born to teenage parents, and her dad was so addicted to drugs that he taught Hamilton, then 7, how to prepare crack cocaine for him.

    "I would sit there and roll drugs for everybody," Hamilton said. "It seemed as if I had value. I saw that in my dad's eyes, and I saw that as a way to keep daddy happy."

    Hamilton tried them as well in high school, more because she wanted to fit in, she said. After she began her career at UCLA, she'd go home with a built-in excuse for her friends as to why she didn't need to do them: mandatory drug testing.

    She was once held at gunpoint. She cleaned bathrooms to help pay for her gymnastics training, and she performed at nightclubs to buy leotards, she said.

    Gymnastics has the third-highest attendance of all sports at UCLA, behind football and men's basketball. The sport attracts lots of young girls and their families. One mom approached Hamilton and asked if the material was suitable for her 10-year-old daughter. Hamilton told her that she recommended parents read the book first, then decide if they'd like their children to read it. She whispered in the mom's ear the things she figured she might be concerned about.

    Hamilton's kids, Khari, 14, and Caleb, 12, are in the process of reading the book.

    "People have been very supportive," Hamilton said. "I was very happy. Now I can be the person I want to be."

     

    This article first appeared in the online Web site of the Long Beach, CA, Press-Telegram. To link to the original article go here: http://www.presstelegram.com/sports/ci_14159497

  • Finalists Announced for the 2010 Bart Starr Award

    Jan 7, 2010

    Media Contacts:

    Tyler Sminkey, NJC Communications

    (786) 390-9510, tsminkey@njccorp.com

    Lindsey Marck, Athletes in Action Communications

    (937) 352-1253, Lindsey.Marck@athletesinaction.org

    Finalists Announced for the 2010 Bart Starr Award

    Athletes in Action will recognize the winner during the NFL-Sanctioned 23rd Annual

    Super Bowl Breakfast

    HOLLYWOOD, FL (January 07, 2010)— The three finalists for the 2010 Bart Starr Award, which honors one NFL player for outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community, were announced today by Athletes in Action. The finalists include:

    - Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals – Warner has spent 12 years with the NFL and in that time has participated in the First Things First Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Special Olympics, Neighborhood Ministries, Habitat for Humanity and more.

    - Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints – Brees has had a hand in starting a few different foundations including the Brees Dream Foundation and Brees on the Seas. He has been with the NFL for 9 years and has contributed his time to the American Cancer Society, Pro Sports Team Challenge, Hurricane Katrina Recovery and more.

    - Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis Colts – Saturday has been with the NFL for 11 years and has made a difference in the community by helping the Susan G. Komen for the Cure cause, Sharon Bassett Foundation and serves on the board for Kids’ Voice among other efforts.

    The winner of the Bart Starr Award will be announced during the 23rd Annual NFL-Sanctioned Super Bowl Breakfast, hosted by Athletes in Action, on Saturday February 6th, 2010 at 8:00 a.m. EST at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, FL (3555 South Ocean Drive).

    In addition to the award finalists, the morning will feature guest speakers which include Baltimore Ravens Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh, NFL Hall of Famers Anthony Muñoz and Bart Starr, as well as several other NFL athletes and coaches to be announced.

    The winner of the Bart Starr Award is voted by NFL players and is named after NFL Hall of Famer, Bart Starr. The award honors the player who best exemplifies Starr’s commitment to family, teammates and the community. Last year’s winner, Warrick Dunn of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had displayed a dedication to helping single parents by establishing The Warrick Dunn Foundation and the Homes for the Holidays program. In addition, Dunn had invested personal time and resources to Athletes for Hope, Boy Scouts and Hurricane Katrina Relief.

    The Super Bowl Breakfast Committee is preparing for a large crowd this year, as 2010 marks the first year that the Pro Bowl will be played the Sunday prior to the Super Bowl. Many fans are expected to travel to the Pro Bowl and stay through the Super Bowl, hopefully stimulating a struggling South Florida economy and increasing attendance at the events surrounding the game.

    “For 23 years the NFL-sanctioned Super Bowl Breakfast has been a highlight of Super Bowl weekend.  We are excited to host our event in South Florida again,” said Terry Bortz, Director of the Super Bowl Breakfast for Athletes in Action.

    Priority and Corporate tables are still available and may be purchased by calling (800) 416-9472. More information can also be found at www.superbowlbreakfast.com.

    About the Athletes in Action Super Bowl Breakfast

    The Super Bowl Breakfast is an NFL sanctioned event hosted by Athletes in Action.  The signature event of Super Bowl week has taken place in the game's host city every year since 1988, drawing sellout crowds to hear from some of the games biggest names. The Bart Starr Award, given away at the breakfast, honors Starr's lifelong commitment to serving as a positive role model to his family, teammates and community. The winner of the Bart Starr Award is determined by NFL player balloting at the end of the regular season, making the award one of only two individual honors selected by the players themselves. For more information, visit www.superbowlbreakfast.com.

    # # #

  • College Football and Congress?

    Dec 30, 2009

     

    The recent congressional injunction for a move toward a college football playoff is met with varying public opinion. Many consider that the nation’s greatest minds should be more concerned and focused on public policy rather than playoff participation. Others, favoring the crowning of a “true” national champion via a playoff system, encourage Congress’ push for a change.

    Whether you are for or against the topic of a college football playoff, or more importantly the involvement of our nation’s senators and representatives in the realm of collegiate athletics, is irrelevant to my point today. My point is that these individuals involved aren’t satisfied with the status quo but rather are seeking an alternative option—hoping to find a change for the better.

    As the closing of another year is quickly approaching and we seek to usher in a new decade, these last few moments of 2009 provide a time for reflection and inflection, reminiscing on the highs and lows of the year publically, professionally, and personally. More notably they force us to realize our mortality as humans, and offer us areas in which we aspire to change for the better. 

    Traditionally, I’m not one to develop New Year’s resolutions. I’m not opposed to them, I just don’t usually compose them—but this year I may. Whether it is exercising regularly, eating healthier, creating a “bucket list,” developing better studying habits, reading the Bible, ridding oneself of destructive habits, communicating with friends and relatives regularly, etc., these examples all acknowledge a positive need for change. Now I’m not one to promote change for the sake of change. But I am one to invoke that we should never become complacent or content with low-level living:  vocationally, spiritually, physically, relationally, educationally, etc. 

    Change is all around us. Ecclesiastes tells us that for every season in nature, there is a change. From a caterpillar maturing into a beautiful butterfly to a seed aging to a sturdy oak tree, change is present in both of these examples as well as multiple others in nature. Thus I am suggesting that when change results in a greater Christlike conformity, then change is worth pursuing. 

  • A New Direction

    Dec 22, 2009

    A New Direction

    Steven Wood/For the News & Messenger

    Forest Park graduate Ryan Woolley currently pitches for the University of Alabama at Birmingham

    By Dave Fawcett Published: December 22, 2009 Updated: December 22, 2009

    On a cool, cloudless June afternoon, Ryan Woolley left his parents' house in Montclair and took a jog without any set destination in mind. His only intention that summer day in 2008 was to clear his head and get in some exercise by going as far as his legs would carry him.

    But two miles into his run, Woolley stopped what he was doing after noticing a marquee along Cardinal Drive that read Potomac Crest Baptist Church.

    There was nothing else on the sign that grabbed his attention, no Bible verse or other inspirational message. The only nudge he felt was to walk down the driveway toward the building, seek out the pastor and place a prayer request for someone he knew.

    That was the original plan anyway until something else came forward instead.

    On a wooden bench outside a church he had never visited, sitting next to a man he had never met, Woolley released himself into the fullness of God's mercy and experienced a freedom unlike any he'd ever felt.

    Here, he was not the pitching standout from Forest Park High School with the 90-plus miles-per-hour fastball who had gone on to play at the University of Georgia and harbored a serious ambition to play major-league baseball.

    Nor was he the 20-year-old young man facing criminal charges when a teammate of his in the Cape Cod League was seriously injured after being pinned under a truck Woolley was driving.

    Less than a week removed from the incident in the Cape with no one else around except himself and pastor Doug Duty, Woolley was just a broken-hearted kid confessing his pain and guilt and in the end receiving through Duty the message of God's forgiveness.

    It didn't matter whether Woolley completely understood the full context of what he heard that day or knew entirely what he was supposed to do with it.

    The pieces to all that would make more sense afterward.

    All Woolley knew right then was that in the course of an hour and 15-minute conversation he had undergone a transformation through a simple, yet powerful expression of unconditional love. And even though Woolley was well aware he still had to face the consequences of his actions at the Cape, a burden had been lifted. He could now move forward.

    HEART OF THE GAME

    Woolley had always believed in God and had been involved with Christian-related groups through baseball with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and down at Georgia, where he attended chapel with the baseball team.

    But for most of his life, Woolley had never been a regular churchgoer. He and his family attended a church service on occasion, but with the number of moves the family made because of his father's job, going to church even at all eventually became an afterthought.

    Sports, though, were a fixture and a passion for Woolley from the start. In fact, it was clear early on he had a natural inclination toward athletics, especially baseball when the first three words Woolley spoke as a baby were mama, dada and ball.

    Even at 14-months old, when he attended his first major-league baseball game, Woolley was so mesmerized by the action at Yankee Stadium he never fussed once during the entire outing.

    There would be athletic diversions along the way as Woolley dabbled in swimming and hockey and basketball, but he always came back to baseball.

    Woolley's mother Dawn said the sport appealed to her son's orderly, analytical approach to things. But it didn't hurt he had a knack for throwing a baseball at high velocities either.

    He first started showing his pitching aptitude as an eighth grader when he helped his DTQ Little League team win its district and advance to states.

    Going into his freshman year of high school, Woolley honed his skills even more after his parents wanted to find a coach to work with their son and came into contact with former major-league pitcher Mike Wallace.

    Wallace, a Madison High School graduate who played in 117 games for four different teams from 1973 to 1977, took Woolley aside and became an important mentor. Woolley took everything in that Wallace told him, even when they weren't together.

    In the backyard of his house, Woolley videotaped his pitching form and then studied it over and over while watching it on the television.

    While his parents tried to get a better handle on their son's talent without overly pushing him, Woolley continued to push himself.

    Woolley believed enough in his abilities that after he wasn't invited to participate with a showcase team following his sophomore year of high school, Woolley called up the coach and requested a tryout. As a courtesy, the coach granted the request and asked the family to come up to Maryland.

    Although his chances of making the team were slim to none, Woolley made such an impression that the coach did something he said he usually never did following a tryout for a player: he put Woolley on the team.

    From there, things kept picking up until the summer between his junior and senior year at Forest Park when the interest exploded, especially from Division I college programs.

    Attending the East Coast Professional Showcase Tournament in Wilmington, N.C., in July of 2005, Woolley was scheduled to pitch just two innings in a game.

    But after getting the three straight batters he faced out in each inning, college coaches and professional baseball scouts on hand asked that Woolley stay in and pitch some more. With a fastball touching 94 miles per hour, he went five innings and allowed only one person on base, which came in that final inning.

    All of a sudden, college powerhouses like South Carolina, LSU and Georgia, among others, came calling before Woolley signed with the Bulldogs that November. With that decision, Woolley was establishing himself even more as a big-time prospect.

    He pitched some his freshman year at Georgia, going 1-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 28.2 innings, but he was limited to three appearances his sophomore year because of an injury to his arm.

    When it came time to determine who was travelling with the Georgia team bound for the College World Series in Omaha that season, Woolley was left off the 25-man roster and instead went to Massachusetts to play for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League, the nation's top collegiate summer baseball league.

    It was there that Woolley's world turned upside down.

    On the night of June 15, 2008, Woolley, according to police reports, was watching the College World Series and drinking alcohol at the home of a family that was hosting a player from the Cape Cod League.

    Woolley told police he planned on sleeping overnight at the house so he wanted to move his black 2000 Ford Ranger out of the driveway and onto the street.

    Woolley then told police he backed out of the driveway and began heading west down the street. At that point, according to the police report, Woolley's Whitecaps teammate B.J. Dail, "ran out in front of [Woolley's] vehicle and jumped on the hood of [Woolley's] vehicle."

    In the police report, Woolley said he hit the brakes, which caused Dail to fall off the truck. Police found Dail pinned under the driver's side front tire, where, according to officer Matthew Marshall's report, Dail had "sustained a large opening to the back of his head, which was bleeding heavily, a large laceration to his left leg, and his right foot [was found] to be pushed back by the drivers side front tire."

    Marshall also stated that Dail had "road rash burns on both of his legs and back" and that Dail was "combative and confused" as Marshall administered first aid. In addition, Marshall said in his report he detected alcohol on Dail's breath.

    Dail was first taken to Cape Cod Hospital, where he was listed in serious condition before being flown to Boston, the police report said.

    Marshall said that Woolley was given and failed field sobriety tests. Marshall also stated that an 18-pack of beer was found in Woolley's truck.

    Woolley was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicating liquor resulting in serious bodily injury, negligent operation of a motor vehicle and being a minor in possession of alcohol.

    He was taken to the Brewster Police Station to be booked following his arrest. While there, Woolley kept saying over and over, according to officer Patrick Varley's report: "I'm done with college … I'm done with the Cape Cod League … Do you know my baseball career is over."

    A STEP OF FAITH

    When asked the moment he started surrendering his life to God, Woolley doesn't point to that meeting outside Potomac Crest Baptist Church with Duty.

    Instead, he points to being in a jail cell, where facing serious charges and with his teammate in bad shape, Woolley said he did the only thing he could think of doing: he prayed.

    "I was basically on my knees," Woolley said. "I had been doing it my way for so long and look where it had gotten me."

    Woolley declines to publically talk in detail about the night of June 15, but the impact of it clearly consumed him. When Woolley returned home, he was visibly shaken by what had happened.

    His parents, who also declined to publically talk in detail about the incident, considering it a private matter, worried about their son's state of mind as they tried to make sense of what had happened. Their son had never hurt anyone in his life. He was a good kid, the type who others went to for help.

    Woolley assumed his days with the Georgia baseball team were numbered and on July 2, he said he received official notification from the school's athletic department that he had been released from the baseball team. That stung him as did the possibility that he might not play baseball again.

    He also faced the possibility of a minimum of 2 ½ years in jail if convicted of the charge of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of an intoxicating liquor resulting in serious bodily injury.

    But what concerned him the most he said was Dail's condition and the injuries Dail had suffered. The guilt he carried from what had happened weighed on him heavily as he kept to himself, unwilling or perhaps unable to share his deep regret and pain with anyone.

    One thing Woolley did do was go to various churches in Prince William County and put Dail's name on prayer lists.

    It was that mindset that initially led Woolley to stop at Potomac Crest. It was another church that could pray for Dail.

    Duty, who has been the pastor at Potomac Crest for 10 years, remembered seeing Woolley at the top of the driveway. It was a Thursday, Duty recalled, which was usually a quiet day at the church.

    At the time, Duty was standing inside the church's main doors, talking to three women.

    Potomac Crest sometimes attracts homeless people looking for help and so from a distance, Duty thought this was the case, what with Woolley's frazzled-looking appearance following his jog.

    "My first thought was, this guy needs money," said Duty, who went outside to meet Woolley.

    As Woolley got closer, Duty realized it was someone coming off a hard run. They introduced each other and Woolley told Duty he needed someone to talk to. The two sat down on a bench outside the church and Woolley began sharing the details of the accident and its aftermath.

    Through it all, Duty listened and saw the genuine remorse Woolley felt over what had happened.

    "It had nothing to do with baseball. He realized the mistake he had made," Duty said. "He had hurt his friend."

    After they finished talking, Duty went back into the church and told the women about this extraordinary encounter. And then he went into his office and Googled the name Ryan Woolley to find out if what he had been told was accurate. To his astonishment and relief, it was.

    "Someone had told me the complete truth," Duty said.

    Before Woolley left the church that day, Duty extended him an invitation.

    "I took his hand and gave him a hug and said 'I want you to come back here because I want to see you again,' " Duty said. "He said, " 'You will.' "

    When Woolley arrived Sunday for the second of Potomac Crest Baptist's two services, starting at 11 a.m., Duty was thrilled. Duty then got Woolley connected with his son Aron, a former football player at Woodbridge who had played at Campbell University. The two clicked and Woolley became a mainstay on Sundays at Potomac Crest Baptist that summer.

    "It could have become a huge stumbling block in his career and in his life, but he let God come into his life and he was able to overcome those obstacles," Duty said. "Rather than let it mar his life, it became a springboard."

    And Duty saw the change.

    "The person that walked away that day was not the same person who walked up here," Duty said. "That whole mess he was carrying was dropped off at the Cross. I didn't see the pain."

    His parents saw a change as well. Although Woolley did not go into great detail with his parents about his time with Duty, he told them he had met someone he could talk to. And for that, they were grateful.

    "We were relieved that he had a place to go," said Woolley's father Greg.

    MOVING ON

    After Duty came into Woolley's life, two other men would cross his path and become important influences as well.

    The first was Brian Shoop.

    An accomplished college baseball coach for over 25 years, Shoop was an assistant at Mississippi State in the 1980s, where he coached future major-league stars like Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro. He then won 692 games during a 17-year career at Birmingham-Southern before taking over at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2007.

    But for all his success, Shoop has his priorities in order, starting with his relationship with Jesus Christ.

    "I am unapologetically a follower and disciple of Christ," Shoop said. "But it's not something I wear on my sleeve. It's my lifestyle that I use to honor Him."

    When Woolley expressed an interest in UAB, Shoop was aware of the Cape Cod incident. But Shoop wanted to know more about Woolley so he started asking around.

    Shoop talked to one of his former assistants, Doug Sisson, who had been at Georgia when Woolley was there. Sisson had nothing but good things to say about Woolley.

    Shoop also came to Virginia and met with Woolley and his family.

    "Doug had said [Ryan] was an exceptional young man and when I met Ryan and his family, I concluded the same thing," Shoop said.

    Woolley became familiar with UAB through Jeff Stewart, a scout for the San Diego Padres. Stewart's son Luke had been Woolley's roommate and teammate at Georgia and was now enrolled at UAB.

    The Blazers were not a college baseball power like Georgia. In fact since its inception in 1979, the school had only qualified for one NCAA Tournament, which was in 1991.

    But that didn't matter to Woolley.

    "The biggest thing for me was that in the first five minutes of my first conversation with [Shoop], he told me he was a Christian," said Woolley, who transferred to UAB beginning in the fall of 2008. "As my mom put it, he really cares about his players. And that's hard to find in coaches sometimes."

    It was through UAB that Woolley came into contact with the next person who would have a major impact on his life, Chris Beck, the director of baseball operations for a Christian-based organization in Ohio called Athletes in Action.

    Each year, Beck looks for players to fill out the rosters among the organization's four teams.

    And one place Beck targets for players is UAB, a program he's had a good working relationship with over the years.

    Beck knew who Woolley was and thought he would be a good fit for the team getting ready to compete in the Alaska League. Beck contacted the UAB baseball program and got a strong recommendation from Shoop.

    Beck also spoke with Woolley and Woolley's dad about AIA as well.

    Woolley knew nothing about AIA other than that a UAB player had spent a summer with them in Alaska and had thrived up there. But he was convinced it was the best place for him.

    AIA, which receives on average 300 applications for 125 slots each season, provides an opportunity for players, whether they are new or mature believers, to grow in their faith through Bible studies and evangelistic efforts.

    Typically, team members take turns sharing their faith to members of an opposing team by telling them who they are, how they came to Christ and presenting the Gospel.

    Among themselves, AIA players also talk about real-life issues, from preparing for marriage to dating to just avoiding bad decisions.

    "There are people who see us as Sunday-school kids or goodie two shoes, but we are all coming from the same place," Beck said. "These guys are struggling with how to be grown men. So for Ryan, regardless of what he got into, he saw he wasn't the only one who had made a mistake. That relieved the tension."

    Woolley said when he arrived in California in early June to work out with AIA, he shared his testimony with his teammates. Not because anyone asked or because he felt obligated to, but because he wanted to let them know about the incident at the Cape Cod League and what God was doing in his life as a result.

    "There was no way, I was leaving that out," said Woolley, who in February had pleaded guilty to negligent operation of a motor vehicle and possessing liquor under the age of 21.

    He also pleaded guilty to the charge of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Through a plea agreement, that charge was reduced from the original one of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol resulting in serious bodily injury.

    Then in April, he received a six-month suspended sentence and was put on probation until Feb. 11, 2011. He was also, among things, required to perform 100 hours of community service.

    "He's not going to repeat the same mistakes," Beck said. "He's going to use his gifts for God's glory and to be a better person."

    THE CALL

    While adjusting to life with AIA, Woolley faced the next big moment in his life when the Atlanta Braves drafted him in the sixth round in June.

    Considering he was ineligible to pitch last spring in any games after transferring from one Division I program to another, Woolley was shocked by the high selection.

    But the Braves had been following Woolley since Forest Park when an Atlanta representative was in the stands the day Woolley went head to head with Jeremy Jeffress of Halifax County in the 2006 Northwest Region quarterfinals.

    Jeffress, who was drafted that year in the first round by Milwaukee, won the game, but Woolley showed his potential, striking out nine and allowing just four hits and one run in the 1-0 loss. Woolley finished his senior season with a 6-3 record, a 2.49 ERA and 82 strikeouts.

    With his strong college commitment in place, no one drafted Woolley that year, but the Braves kept close tabs on him at Georgia and then at UAB. During a bullpen session in late March, a scout from the Braves came to watch Woolley throw.

    The Braves then brought Woolley in a week and a half before the three-day draft scheduled for June 9-11 to work out with other prospects. There were no promises made, but Atlanta told Woolley the day before he was to be selected to stay tuned because he could be in store for a surprise.

    Woolley had just stepped out of the shower when he noticed his cell phone was lit up. It was June 10 and he was in California at the time, getting ready to begin playing in the 47-game Alaska League season that was running from June 7 to August 2.

    He estimates in a 10-minute span, between 15 to 20 messages had been left on his phone from the time he got in the shower until the time he got out. As he reviewed them, each one kept saying congratulations in one form or another. Woolley didn't know what the congratulations were for until he got to the final message, which was from Brian Bridges, the scouting supervisor for the Atlanta Braves, telling Woolley he had been drafted in the sixth round.

    With the good news, the first thing Woolley did was call his parents. His father already knew, having gotten text messages from parents of Woolley's former teammates at Georgia, but Dawn did not know until Greg texted her at her work place.

    Dawn, who is a kindergarten teacher at Cougar Elementary in Manassas Park, was so excited she shared the news with some women she worked with. Not being big baseball fans, her co-workers didn't understand Dawn's enthusiasm over something like that. But given what her son had gone through up to that point, she couldn't herself.

    "It was very emotional," Dawn Woolley said. "Where he had been the year before and the year he had had."

    From the start, the Braves made a hard push to sign Woolley.

    Although neither Woolley nor his dad Greg would state the specific figures, Greg did say that Atlanta made two quick offers, both above the prescribed amount set by the commissioner's office for Major League Baseball. Worst case scenario, Woolley was looking at a low six-figure bonus. The player selected the year before in Woolley's spot had received a $150,000 signing bonus.

    New to the art of negotiations with a professional sports franchise and without an advisor at the time, Greg talked to others to get advice, including two players from the area who had experience with this, former major leaguer Mike Colangelo and current major leaguer Jeff Baker. The counsel was always the same: take it slow and see how it plays out.

    Certainly, there was no rush since drafted players had until midnight Aug. 17 to sign.

    But the news of being selected, let alone going so highly, still excited and frightened Woolley at the same time. If it had been up to him, he would have signed immediately.

    To be drafted, let alone that high by a legendary franchise like the Braves? What a great opportunity, he thought to himself.  But he was also 3,000 miles from home and unsure what to do.

    Beck, a former pitcher and draft pick, was a calming influence on Woolley.

    "We chatted a little about the process," Beck said. "I told him, once you leave the college ranks for the pros, it's a business."

    Still when Woolley started pitching for Athletes in Action, he hit a rough patch.

    Mechanically, Woolley struggled with his form and with locating his pitches. He was pressing, trying to blow his pitches past every batter and it didn't work. He needed to vary up his pitch selection, while not giving into the pressure of having to live up to being a sixth-round pick.

    "Without a doubt, he was pitching with a lot of weight on his shoulders," Beck said of Woolley, who finished the season going 4-5 with a 7.12 ERA, 29 strikeouts and 15 walks in 36.2 innings and was ranked among the league's top 10 prospects by Baseball America (No. 5) and PGCrossChecker.com (No. 8). "You can't live life like that. He's an intense kid."

    As the signing deadline drew closer, it became apparent the Braves and Woolley would not come to terms. And in the end, Woolley became the only pick among the Braves first 14 selections not to sign. He was also one of only three out of the 30 players drafted in the sixth round to not sign.

    Although both sides were disappointed a deal could not get done, the Woolleys said the negotiations with the Braves were never nasty.

    From Woolley's standpoint, the issue was never focused strictly on the money.

    Woolley weighed signing with the Braves against going back to UAB and having the chance to pitch in the spring and perhaps improve his draft stock even more.

    The righthander still had two years of eligibility left and if things worked out, he could find himself back in this position in 2010.

    "I was so grateful that God had even put me in that situation with some of the things I had been through," Woolley said.

    THE NEXT STEP

    The text messages always asked the same question: "Have you gone yet? I really want you to go."

    Woolley did not send those to his father to pressure him to go to church. He sent them as a loving testament to what God had done in his life and what he wanted his parents to experience as well.

    So this past summer, Greg and Dawn started attending Potomac Crest Baptist and have become such regulars that Duty knows where they will sit each Sunday.

    "We're more at peace," Greg Woolley said. "It's been transforming for us and where it is leading us in the healing process."

    Comments like that make Woolley smile and reminds him how thankful he is to have been around positive influences like Doug Duty, Brian Shoop and Chris Beck, who all set the right example for him by reminding him of the responsibility he carries to give back to others what he himself has been given.

    "That's the best thing out of all of this is the people who I have surrounded myself with," Woolley said. "I'm extremely grateful for that."

    He's also thankful for the peace and comfort he receives from reading the Bible.

    Inside his truck, Woolley has a verse from Scripture that resonates with him more than any other. It's from Philippians 4:13, which says: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

    There are subjects that remain too difficult for Woolley to talk about.

    He said he has not spoken to Dail since the accident and isn't sure Dail, who after recovering from his injuries played last season at Division II Mount Olive and was drafted in the 17th round by the Chicago Cubs, would want to talk to him now. So for the moment, that's where Woolley leaves it.

    Woolley prefers to look forward anyway, but he knows he's been on an journey, one that led him down a sidewalk two summers ago for what started out as a physical exercise and ended up becoming an important step in healing his heart.

    "For me, it's hard to say it was a blessing. Another person was involved and got hurt," Woolley said. "But it's been great to me to bring me closer to Christ. It's a situation I would not want to happen this way, but I try to look at it in a positive light and that's to develop that relationship with God."

    Sports editor David Fawcett can be reached at 703-878-8052

    This story can be found at:  http://www2.insidenova.com/isn/sports/local/article/a_new_directtion/49134/

    It was originally published on the InsideNoVA.com Web page, the News & Messenger serving Prince William, Manassas, and Manassas Park in Northern Virginia.

  • Tiger’s Tale?

    Dec 1, 2009

     

    It’s a storyline that far too often plays out in life. A “flawless” athlete, headlined with endorsements and magazine covers, falls from grace. This time it happened to the biggest name in sports—Tiger Woods. In the early morning hours following the Thanksgiving holiday, Tiger may have tainted his seemingly stoic image. The rumors that were flying around about him prior to his accident, and then his silence and “hiding” only confirm one thing—he is human. 

    Regardless of the incidents surrounding Woods’ accident, it made me reflect on my own life, as well as the lives of my predecessors. I realize that I, like Adam and Eve, often seek to hide from my mistakes. I exert far too much energy trying to cover things up to protect my own image rather than admit my failings, tell the truth, repent, and move on. 

    For a lot of my life I mistook image for character. I was two-faced. Like a chameleon, I would adjust my image to my surroundings. But over time, people saw through my lies—I was only fooling myself. But then when I truly repented of my sin and turned to Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I became a new creation in Christ.

    Today, I still fail daily. But instead of hiding, I seek God’s forgiveness and guidance and move on. Instead of being two-faced, I now daily seek the face of Christ, and in turn emulate His character. That is the image—Christ-like character—that I hope to accurately portray to the world.

  • Ohio State kicker Barclay finds success in life after soccer

    Nov 20, 2009

    Ohio State kicker Devin Barclay (23) played for four different MLS teams in five seasons before his soccer career ended due to injuries at age 22.

    By Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY

    Chad Marshall, a defender with the Columbus Crew and the U.S. soccer team, was a world away from the Horseshoe when he saw his friend Devin Barclay celebrate a very different kind of Goooooooal! A field goal.

    Marshall was in Bratislava, Slovakia, last Saturday with the U.S. soccer team when he watched online as Barclay, a former pro soccer player, kicked a 39-yard field goal in overtime against Iowa to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 13 years.

    "I was so happy for him," Marshall said. "It didn't work out for him with soccer because of injuries, but it's a testament to his hard work that he didn't give up."

    Barclay's journey from soccer prodigy to MLS cast-off to Buckeyes hero is one of the more unlikely stories of this college football season.

    "It's a crazy path. There's so many different roads I had to take to get here," Barclay told MLSnet.com this week as Ohio State prepared to face Michigan on Saturday.

    Barclay was 17 when he signed with MLS as a Project-40 player as part of the league's development program. He also represented the USA on three youth national teams. Playing for four MLS teams in five seasons, his career was derailed by injuries. He was waived by the Crew in 2005, and his soccer career was over at age 22.

    "Sometimes you have to be in the right situation with people who believe in you," said Alfonso Mondelo, who coached Barclay with the Tampa Bay Mutiny and now is head of player personnel at MLS. "But when one door closed, another one opened."

    Jim Schmidtke, who runs the Athletes in Action ministry for the Crew and Buckeyes, helped opened that door when he suggested that Barclay, who had never kicked field goals but had an especially strong leg, give football a try.

    "He used to always crush the ball," Marshall said of Barclay's soccer days.

    Barclay practiced at a local high school, enrolled at an OSU branch and, after gaining clearance from the compliance office, he walked on with the Buckeyes last year.

    "He may have liked the fact that we were senior-citizen friendly. We had Ryan Pretorius (a 29-year-old former pro rugby player from South Africa and former Buckeyes kicker)," coach Jim Tressel said about Barclay, 26.

    When Aaron Pettrey suffered a knee injury against New Mexico State three weeks ago, Barclay took over. The junior has been perfect with nine PATs and is 4-for-7 on field goals, with his longest — 39 yards — also the biggest.

    "Nothing in soccer was ever like this," Barclay said afterward.

    This story appeared on the USA Today website at:  http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/bigten/2009-11-19-barclay-ohio-state_N.htm

  • MLS alum kicks into Buckeyes history

    Nov 19, 2009

    Onetime prodigy Barclay enjoys second life as collegiate kicker

    11/17/2009 10:13 AM

    By Craig Merz / MLSnet.com Staff

    Devin Barclay spent five years in MLS but now is Rose Bowl bound with OSU.

    Devin Barclay spent five years in MLS but now is Rose Bowl bound with OSU. (AP)

    Related

    COLUMBUS -- Columbus Crew Stadium and Ohio Stadium, home of the Ohio State University Buckeyes, are a mere two miles apart, but for Devin Barclay it might as well be the distant between the Earth and the moon.

    The last many soccer people saw of the former teenage whiz kid was in a Columbus Crew uniform, finishing his Major League Soccer career in 2005.

    Done and gone at age 22. That's what many thought of Barclay after the last of four professional stops that began five years earlier as a teenager with the long-gone Tampa Bay Mutiny.

    Fast forward to Saturday evening in Columbus when Barclay, a junior walk-on football player, is ready to kick a 39-yard field goal to not only beat Iowa but give the Buckeyes at least a share of the Big Ten title and their first trip the Rose Bowl since 1996.

    Actually, fast is not the operative word. Call it a long and winding route from Major League Soccer to one of the most storied programs in the country.

    "It's a crazy path. My parents were kind of laughing about it. There's so many different roads I had to take to get here," Barclay said Monday ahead of what's known in Columbus simply as "Michigan Week," as the Buckeyes prepare to face their bitter rivals in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

    Barclay nailed the kick through the middle of the uprights in the closed end of the stadium for a 27-24 overtime victory. As he did when he scored a goal in soccer, Barclay took off running from his teammates but was quickly engulfed by them and a swarm of fans.

    This being Columbus and him now a hero, Barclay's life changed quickly even if he wasn't aware of it. The video of his kick was posted on his Wikipedia page an hour after the game and had received thousands of hits. A Google search of his name revealed more than 2.5 million results today.

    The reach of Ohio State football goes beyond the borders.

    "I got a text from Chad Marshall saying congratulations," Barclay said of the Crew and U.S. defender. "He was watching the game in Slovakia (after the U.S. national team's friendly there earlier in the day). He was a really good friend of mine when I played here and I heard from (former Crew forward) Dante Washington and a lot of people I was close with when I was here that I had lost contact with over the years. It's really cool to hear from those guys."

    The typical reaction?

    "A lot of my soccer friends are still in shock that I made that transition because usually it happens a lot earlier like in high school. I just did it a little bit later," Barclay said.

    So, how did the 26-year-old Annapolis, Md., native wind up as the top kicker for a top-10 team? Happenstance as much as anything.

    Barclay was 17 when he signed with MLS as a Project-40 player as part of the league's development program. He was assigned to Tampa Bay but did not count against the roster or salary cap and was given funds to be used for a college education.

    He had three goals and two assists in 23 games (12 starts) for the Mutiny in 2001. He had his own place to live and thought he would be enjoying the Florida sunshine for years. However, the league disbanded the team and he was acquired by San Jose in the dispersal draft.

    His career never took off partly because of a series of injuries that robbed him of experience and the desire to continue in the sport he had played since he was a boy.

    Barclay played just 321 minutes in 2002, was dealt to D.C. United the next season but missed much of the year after injuring his left foot in April. He appeared in three matches (no points) before undergoing surgery in August. He also had surgery on his shoulder in December.

    The Crew traded for him in 2004 but he played only three games with one start before suffering a stress fracture in his right foot late in the season. The next season was even worse. Barclay separated his shoulder during a reserve match in the first month of the season and played just 19 minutes.

    That was it as far as soccer.

    "I had been in four different places in five years. I had a lot of injuries that set me back. It had been five years and the Project-40 contract was up," Barclay said. "I knew Columbus wasn't going to extend my stay here. I thought it made more sense to go to college at that point."

    After being waived by the Crew, he decided to attend a branch of Ohio State in nearby Delaware, Ohio.

    "I had to relearn everything because I had been out of school so long," he said. "Then I had to take the ACTs and go through that then go through the branch campus to get a GPA. I had to spend a quarter at the Delaware center."

    Overcoming obstacles was nothing new. He was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder at age 7 and was put on the drug Ritalin -- a stimulant medication that helped him sit still in class. He took it but didn't feel right and eight years later decided he had enough.

    "I had been on Ritalin my whole life and I just ended up getting off Ritalin and realizing I had to do the work," Barclay said. "Pretty plain and simple when I was in high school I didn't do the work I should have (when on Ritalin). I started doing the readings and wasn't taking shortcuts."

    He got his high school diploma after being home-schooled by his mother, Liz, and never considered furthering his education until his soccer playing days were over.

    While still with the Crew he was a dating a girl whose younger brother, Garrett Hummel, played high school football in Shelby, Ohio.

    Hummel piqued Barclay's interest in placekicking and the pair used to jump the fence at the high school to practice. The biggest adjustment is getting quick height on a football after so many years after directing the ball low and hard on set pieces.

    "It's a change of a dream when I made the transition from soccer to football," Barclay said. "It's a different type of kicking. It's something I like to do. Within the first week of kicking field goals I was like, 'I love this. This is fun and I think I can be good at it.' That's how the dream changed."

    Barclay also got help from Jim Schmidtke, who runs the Athletes in Action ministry for the Crew and OSU football. He put Barclay in touch with several former Ohio State kickers and produced a video of Barclay's work to be shown the coaching staff.

    "Jim played a very pivotal role in the sense that he helped me believe it was possible then got me in touch with the compliance guys to get that started," Barclay said.

    "Devin has really done a lot of hard work to get to where he is today. It's pretty remarkable to see where he's come from and what he's done," Schmidtke said.

    OSU head coach Jim Tressel eventually took notice of Barclay and gave him a spot on the team, albeit as the third-string kicker.

    "He may have liked the fact that we were senior citizen friendly," Tressel said. "We had Ryan Pretorius before him."

    Barclay last season was behind Pretorius, a 29-year-old former pro rugby player from South Africa, and Aaron Pettrey. As a junior this year, Barclay moved up to No. 2 behind the senior Pettrey but didn't expect to see any game action.

    However, Pettrey tore a ligament in his right knee against New Mexico State on Oct. 31 and is out for the season. Barclay finished out the game and made all three extra points. He missed field goals from 47 and 36 yards with a successful 29-yarder in between.

    To date, he has made all nine extra points and converted 4 of 7 field goals. The winner against Iowa was his longest. He has also kicked off 16 times.

    "He's handled it pretty well," wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "He's one of the older guys on the team so he's going to take a mature approach to it."

    Barclay is not the same person physically or emotionally as soccer fans might remember him.

    "I still had the build of a soccer player when I came here then I put on a little weight -- about 30 to 40 pounds," he said. "It's a totally different type of conditioning. The real difficult part about it was learning to lift the weights and do all the strength and conditioning."

    He's two classes away from a degree in sports and leisure management (exercise science track) but will take post-graduate classes to be eligible next season.

    His father, David, a Division III soccer All-American at Kenyon (Ohio) College, is more excited about seeing his son graduate than kicking a winning field goal.

    "When I signed a contract to play soccer I'm pretty sure me and my dad thought there was a no chance I would ever get to college. That's the thing he's most proud about," Barclay said.

    One thing hasn't changed for Barclay, though.

    "I don't play soccer anymore but I love it," he said, citing Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona as his favorite teams. "I watch all the time. I watch Fox Soccer Channel at night and Sky Sports News and all those British highlights."

    Craig Merz is a contributor to MLSnet.com.

    Here is the link to the original story:  MLS alum kicks into Buckeyes history

  • CLOSED-The Story of Andre Agassi…and everyone else

    Nov 16, 2009

    “How’s your day going?” “Fine.” “How are you doing?” “Good.”

    Superficial conversations like this clutter and fill our lives daily. It is rare to find people who will admit the truth and not sugar-coat reality. Whether someone had a terrible day, an unbearable week, a grueling month or year, rarely will anyone admit the need for help and confess their personal trials and struggles. Now I understand the importance of not openly relinquishing information that may be used against you; and I acknowledge the wisdom that not everyone needs to know. But I am suggesting that when an individual struggles with issue “X”—whatever the issue is—and fails to confess his/her secrets, then he/she is only further isolating and hurting himself/herself. We are not alone in our struggles.

    I commend Andre Agassi for writing his memoir “Open,” and admitting to his personal struggles and addictions.  Although I may question his motives for revealing his shortcomings, I can appreciate his willingness to be honest and candid.

    Proverbs 27:17 tells us that, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” And in the book of Romans we are urged to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” No man or woman is an island. We all truly need each other. You never know what your neighbor has gone through, or what life circumstances the guy at the gym has had to endure, or the challenges the girl at school faces every day. By ignoring reality, far too often we isolate ourselves from the very people that could be of assistance.

    So the next time someone asks you, “How was your day?”—do something different and tell the truth!

  • Day 3: Athletes in Action Basketball Classic

    Nov 15, 2009

    The Athletes in Action staff members kept busy in Seattle on Saturday, with the Classic Coaches Clinic and AIA Volunteer Training taking place in the morning, and a special presentation to former U. of Washington head coach Marv Harshman in the evening.

    The highlight Saturday was the presentation to Harshman. The halftime tribute included a special video, which featured Harshman’s accomplishments at UW and his influence on the basketball community. Harshman was presented with a special picture collage by AIA’s Dave Lower and the Senior Associate AD for the Huskies, Stephanie Rempe. The crowd was on their feet throughout the presentation, giving Harshman a standing ovation at its conclusion.

    Saturday morning about 15 coaches attended the AIA Classic Coaches Clinic to hear each head coach from the participating tournament teams speak on various topics. Robby Cowgill, former Washington State Cougar basketball player and current AIA staff member at Washington State, emceed the clinic. In addition to the clinic, Cowgill and AIA basketball staff member Mike Sigfrids led pre-game chapels for the Belmont basketball team throughout the tournament.

    Also happening just a few minutes down the road from the University of Washington at Bethany Community Church, the AIA Volunteer Training offered a great opportunity for those in the community to learn more about how they can volunteer their time with Athletes in Action. A common misconception about AIA is that the organization only needs athletes to join as team members or coaches, when in fact some of the biggest needs are actually in areas such as photography, writing, SportLinc mentorship and international team leadership. To learn more about how you can become involved with Athletes in Action visit http://volunteers.athletesinaction.org/.

    Tournament Notes:

    Saturday night results (11/14):

    Wright State beat Portland State 75-70.

    University of Washington beat Belmont 96-78