The End Game

Be the best you can be.”

It’s Ted Ginn Sr.’s credo, his one rule.

Pretty simple, right? Just the kind of mantra you might expect from the head football coach and track coach at Cleveland’s Glenville High School.

Something you might find in any sports locker room or gym, splashed in big lettering across a wall or above a door so you can touch it as a reminder: “Be the best you can be.”

At Glenville, the philosophy has produced results ­— among them Ohio State standouts and Heisman Trophy hopefuls Troy Smith and Ginn’s son, Ted Ginn Jr.

But if you view those six words as just so much sports motivation, you’re missing the point.

“This isn’t about a sport,” Ginn Sr. tells Jeannie Roberts in this month’s feature “From Here to the Heisman?” (page 134). “Sport is just part of it, what we use to teach core values. It’s no magical dust. It’s fundamentals, core values of life.”

Indeed, being the best you can be covers more ground for Ginn Sr. than his fleet-footed son racks up on a typical fall Saturday afternoon at The Horseshoe in Columbus.

In February, 21 Glenville athletes accepted college scholarships (11 at Division I schools). “It’s about giving a kid a chance,” Ginn Sr. said at the time.

That’s why he organizes the “Road to Opportunity” bus tour, which takes athletes — and not just ones from Glenville — to college coaches who might not otherwise see them play. It’s also why he is trying to launch The Ginn Academy, a boys’ charter school in Cleveland’s inner city (though it’s on hold due to lack of funding).

To be the best you can be is both an inward endeavor and outward struggle. It offers a goal — be the best — but makes it elusive, because who really knows the limits of one’s potential?

That’s why people such as Ginn Sr. are so important, people who make you see the possibility in the goals they help you set, people who push beyond what even you think is possible.

It reminds me of a Wall Street Journal article from several years ago, which told the story of a single guidance counselor at All Hallows Catholic High School in New York’s poor, crime-ridden South Bronx. Despite the obstacles, the counselor had gotten 100 percent of the school’s seniors accepted to four-year colleges and was working on a second year with a perfect record. But it wasn’t easy.

Most of the kids didn’t even apply to college when she started. “Lots of them would just graduate and go back to the streets,” she said back then. So she helped them with applications and financial-aid forms, harangued them about deadlines and required every student to write a college-application essay.

“When it comes to their futures, you can’t rely on them getting direction from elsewhere,” she told the WSJ. “Look, often there are no parents at home, or parents who have no idea what’s outside of South Bronx.”

What they’ve discovered outside that small circle includes educations from Notre Dame, Holy Cross, Skidmore College and Trinity College.

To many, “being the best” seems unattainable because no one has even suggested what they can be.

Such examples may be most profound in places such as the South Bronx and Glenville, but they continue to every rung of the socio-economic ladder.

According to Robert Shaw, partner of Ivy Success, Cleveland lags in sending its best and brightest to the Ivy League (See “Secrets of the Ivy League,” page 140). “Cleveland is an area that is competitive, but needs a little bit more in terms of profile and aggressiveness,” he says.

Maybe it’s our Midwestern values that keep us from showcasing our successes or boasting about achievements. Or it could be, as one representative from a local private high school suggested to me, “We don’t really push our kids toward the Ivy League.”

That’s too bad, because sometimes that’s exactly what kids — and Cleveland — need: people willing to take risks, people who see more in us than we see in ourselves, people willing to say,“Be the best you can be.”

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