Jeanie Groh: Athletes use fame to encourage wise decisions for Rowan County youth

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, October 23, 2014

Not one, but three famous athletes talked to North Rowan Middle School Students about making wise choices Tuesday.

Renaldo Wynn, a former NFL defensive end, Bubba Wallace, a NASCAR truck driver, and Steve Israel, a former NFL cornerback, all spoke as a part of the Game Plan for Life program, which seeks to encourage children to make wise choices by utilizing the platform of speakers.

“It’s important to let our kids see adults who made it,” said Angela Keaton, the guidance counselor at North Rowan Middle School.

“It shows these kids that you can make it if you make good decisions,” added Emily Harrison, North Rowan’s Communities in Schools site coordinator.

North Rowan Middle isn’t the only school that will take part in Game Plan for Life. Each of the district’s middle schools and two of its elementary schools, as well as Catawba College, will receive visits from these and similar sports stars and television personalities this week.

Although funding for the speakers is provided by the Kannapolis/Rowan ABC Board’s designated education funds, the speakers don’t just address issues tied to drug and alcohol use. They also touch on bullying, making good choices and respect. Each school’s presentation is tailored to address the issues they think are most prevalent at their school.

Wynn told the students there was a time when he started making poor decisions, but that when he began making positive ones, they had a positive impact on his life. “I had to make a different decision to get a different result,” he said.

“Your decision equals your destiny,” Wynn said. “Good decisions – good destiny. Bad decisions – bad destiny.”

Wynn also discussed how to combat bullying with confidence and kindness.

Bubba Wallace talked to the students about his racing career, perseverance, surrounding themselves with the right people and the importance of making wise choices on social media.

Wallace started racing when he was 9 years old. In his first race, he came in last place. But 12 years later, he’s the first African American to win a NASCAR race in 50 years.

“Never give up on your dreams,” he told the students.

He added that having a positive attitude is also important.

“Never give the media anything negative to talk about,” is his mother’s mantra, he said.

While the students at North Rowan Middle may not have to deal with the media, the lesson transfers over to friends, bullies and teachers as well, he told them.

Israel urged the students to pay attention in school, as well as set goals and work toward them.

“I was in their position not too long ago,” Wallace said, explaining that he wants to “help steer them on the right track” and provide a positive role model.

“I thought it was cool,” said Niajia Hernandez, a sixth-grader at North Rowan Middle School.

Jalen Britton, also a sixth-grader, said he learned about being respectful.

“You can do anything you want to do,” he added. “Be your own self.”

Hernandez said she was willing to listen to the speakers because their fame meant “they’ve been through it all.”

The Game Plan for Life visits are sponsored by the Kannapolis/Rowan ABC Board, Salisbury Police and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department. This is the 12th year speakers have been brought into the schools to talk about making wise choices.

Contact education reporter Jeanie Groh at 704-797-4222 or