It was a drizzly Tuesday morning, and the grass was slick, but that didn’t stop the 80 or so kids who gathered at Providence Hall High School in Santa Barbara from catching a pass from former Oakland Raider Tim Brown. Brown made his career for the Raiders, and earlier with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, by catching the passes, and doing it very well. But it turns out that he’s got a pretty good arm, too.
The kids arrived to take part in the Tim Brown Mentor Mini Camp, which was put together by the programs 9-1-1 Kids and Athletes and Entertainers for Kids. “All these kids here are fatherless, ages 10 through 16, so it’s just an opportunity for a day to have someone pour into them and build a relationship and hopefully carry that relationship beyond today, so that they know what it’s like to have a good adult role model,” said Keith Luberto, the high school’s athletic director and boy’s basketball coach. “They used to do it up in Sacramento at the CHP academy, but because of funding and cutbacks, they weren’t able to do it this year, so they contacted us about having it here. And we were happy to host it here at Providence Hall.”
The boys weren’t just from Santa Barbara, though. “There’s actually a group of about fifty kids from Foshay Learning Center in Los Angeles and they came up here,” said Luberto. “And we have Boys and Girls Clubs represented from Lompoc, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. And then there’s a group called Fighting Back Mentors from Santa Barbara, and then there’s also a youth group from Isla Vista that is here. So there are kids from all different places.”
Brown, who retired in 2005, said he wanted to give the kids positive role models, at least for a day. “We’re just trying to let these kids know that there’s someone who cares about them,” Brown said. “I realized that I was very fortunate to have mom and dad at the house at all times. What I wanted to do was put a program together for kids who didn’t have positive role models around.”
He did exactly that. To start the day, a video tribute was shown that included old game footage and interviews with Brown’s college coach, Lou Holtz. Brown then spoke for about 45 minutes about the importance of going to church, receiving a good education, having good role models, and making good decisions. Thinking about the future, he said, is important so one doesn’t make a mistake in life.
“Going to church is huge, but you have to realize that the older you get the more history you have,” Brown said. “And you don’t want that history to be all bad stuff. You’re married, you got kids, your son comes up to and says, ‘Dad, tell me about when you got arrested for beating up somebody. Tell me about what happened when you got pulled over for a DUI.’ Do you really want to explain that stuff to your son? I think not.”
To help the kids learn about important decisions and having good role models, each child was paired with a California Highway Patrol officer, or a member of the Santa Barbara police or fire departments, among others, who had volunteered to help with the camp. “We had a lot of volunteers for this,” said Santa Barbara area CHP Captain Jeff Sgobba. “And it’s not just Tim Brown. Tim Brown was icing on the cake. Once they heard it was a program for fatherless young boys, they wanted to make sure they were involved.”
When Brown was done speaking, he changed into more football-appropriate clothing and led a group of kids in route running and pass catching drills with the help of some quarterbacks and wide receivers from Santa Barbara City College, who were brought to the event by head coach Craig Moropoulos. Meanwhile, SBCC offensive linemen ran blocking drills with another group of boys, and linebackers and defensive backs did coverage drills with another group. After finishing up at one station, the groups would rotate to get an all-around knowledge of certain aspects of the game.
Over the course of the day, Brown’s main point was to make smart decisions in the future so that they stay out of trouble. He used an example of one instance of Holtz speaking in the tribute video: “I could watch those same videos all day. Especially when you hear Coach talk about, to this day, he’s never heard any negative comments about me off the field,” Brown said. “That’s big time stuff. And I don’t know how many of his ex-players he could say that about. I took my reputation seriously, and for me, my mom was so great for me, and my family was so great for me, I never wanted them to have to answer those questions. I don’t want them coming out of the bushes and go, ‘Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Brown, what can you say about what your son did last night?’ How is my mom supposed to answer that question? That’s a very difficult thing to do, and you have to be able to find someone that you love enough to say, ‘I’m not going to do these kinds of things because I don’t want them to have to deal with them.’”
Sgobba is very hopeful that this event will become an annual one so that more boys can have their day with a positive role model. “I’d love to see it stay down here because it could be a very good community event,” Sgobba said. “For us to be involved in something like that is very, very meaningful and I’m watching the looks on these faces and these City Dollege players that are out here helping these kids are like heroes to them.”
Luberto expressed the same sentiment. “Now that we’ve done it for a year and we have these contacts, I think we can really take it to another level,” Luberto said. “We could get many more kids, and possibly move it to another location. We had talked about doing it at the City College, but they’re tearing up the football field. But Coach Moropoulos and his staff and their players are doing an incredible job. Now that they’ve seen it, I hope we can partner with them and do it on their football field next year and maybe get 200 kids. So we definitely want to do it again; it’s been a great experience.”
One quote sticks out from Holtz that was featured in the tribute: “You can succeed if nobody believes in you. But you can’t succeed if you don’t believe in yourself.” When the drills were over, every boy was given a certificate of participation and then they asked for autographs and pictures. Brown was happy to oblige, but those young boys were leaving with a lot more than a signed football or hat. They left with more self-confidence and knowledge of how to make themselves better people, to have positive role models, and to make smart decisions. Even if it is from a future NFL Hall of Famer, no autograph is worth more than that.