Tony Dungy visited the Tampa Bay area to address students, educators and community leaders about community development and the importance of fathers and role models at Gibbs High School Wed., Sept. 28.
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tony Dungy addressed students, educators and community leaders about character development and the importance of fathers and male role models as Pinellas County Schools hosted a “Dads Take Your Child to School Day” Wednesday, Sept. 28 at Gibbs High School.
Dungy serves as the national spokesman for All Pro Dad, a national fatherhood organization. When the retired NFL coach, who led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl title in 2006, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, he became the first African American inducted as head coach.
He recalled his days growing up outside of Detroit, when his own father took him to college football games to watch the University of Michigan and Michigan State play.
“I’d see these big crowds and see the players out there and I thought, I could do that someday,” Dungy said.
His father was quick to tell young Dungy that in order to participate in college sports he’d have to get into college first, and in order to get into college he’d have to earn good grades.
This had an impact on Dungy as he went on to earn a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he played football. He went on to play professionally for three years in the NFL, and after being traded a couple times before being released, his playing days were finished when he was only 25 years old.
“My career was over,” he said to an audience of fathers and sons. “And at that point I was glad I did take my dad’s advice and I kept my options open and I had my degree, because I could do some things now and I ended up going into coaching, and that led me to my real career.
Dungy told the crowd filled with elementary school children to high schoolers that football was his short career and that coaching was his long career.
“I had my options open, I ended up having that opportunity and having a chance to do what I wanted to do.”
After Dungy and the Colts won Super Bowl XLI they were invited to the White House, where Dungy met President George W. Bush, who would go on to ask Dungy to serve on the President’s Council for Service and Civic Participation.
It was then that Dungy realized some things hadn’t changed a whole lot in the 30 years since he was in high school. According to a report by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Dungy found out that in our nation’s largest cities, 48 percent of students were not graduating.
“That was almost half,” Dungy remarked. “I couldn’t believe that!”
Detroit and Indianapolis were two cities that were lagging way behind in education and graduation success rates, and Dungy made it a goal to talk to students there about the importance of finishing school.
He’d needed to do more than simply tell these kids to keep their options open, he said. Dungy would find just what he needed in the report by Secretary of State Powell, which told of the results of the students that had dropped out.
On the average, kids who dropped out would make over $9,000 less than kids with a high school diploma. College graduates, Powell noted in the report, made almost twice as much. That amounted to a half million dollars over the course of a lifetime. That definitely got the attention of those elementary and middle school students, Dungy said.
When Dungy addressed the parents in the audience—specifically the fathers—he told them they need to find a way to get their children’s attention to let them know just how important school is, and he stressed the importance of reading. His own father tricked him into reading, Dungy said, as he had young Tony read the sports page and then asked him questions about what he’d read. Further exploiting his interest in sports, Dungy’s father bought him to a subscription to “Sports Illustrated” magazine.
“We’ve got to come up with creative ways to get your kids to read,” he said. “One of the best ways that we can do that is reading with your kids.”
He suggested visiting the All Pro Dad website for practical tips on getting kids to read more with suggestion on which books to read with them.
Fielding questions from students, one young man wanted to know what it takes to be a role model. Dungy talked about his early days as the Bucs coach and what he told the players.
“I told them all that we’re all role models to someone, so you have to think about what message that you’re sending,” he said, “because there are people looking at you. There are younger people, there’s classmates, there’s people you don’t even think are looking at you. So my advice is: think about the message that you want to give, think about how important it is to help other people. Doing things the right way, being positive all the time.”
Reuben Hepburn, Gibbs High School Principal, remembered the mentors in his life when he was growing up who encouraged him to takes risks and dream big.
“In fact,” he said, “I would attribute my standing here today to many of those mentors who pushed me at times when I would not believe that I’d ever be standing here in this position.”
Hershel Lyons, Chancellor of Division of Public Schools, Florida Department of Education, said with his father not always around when he was growing up, he found himself getting into trouble as a youth. He had even tried to join a gang, and there were people who had given up on him, he said.
“Thankfully, I had some people in my life who knew I could be more,” Lyons said.
With these mentors pushing him, he started making the right choices, the longtime educator said.
“I would not be standing here talking to you today,” he stressed, “if it wasn’t for those role models.”