Student Athletes 'Play it Smart'

Thai man holds a replica poster of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to promote it's latest book at a shopping mall in Bangkok on Thursday, July 19, 2007. The new Harry Potter book will be on sale on Saturday.(AP photo/Sakchai Lalit
AP photo/Sakchai Lalit
Play it Smart Interview with Jim Presbrey, National Director of Play It Smart and Ron Johnson, Vice Chairman of the National Football Foundation.

For millions of children across the country, there are only about two weeks left of summer. You may even be hearing the sound of high school football teams getting ready for their first scrimmage. But any good coach will tell you that being a good player also means knowing how to tackle the books. The National Football Foundation is a not for profit group that helps students win on both fields. Through its Play It Smart program, students work with academic as well as athletic coaches toward the educational version of post-season play - college. This morning, we’re joined by Jim Presbrey of Play It Smart and Ron Johnson of the National Football Foundation.

Melissa McDermott: Tell me what makes this program different than similar programs?

Jim Presbrey: The Football Foundation got involved with this program over three years ago having a long history of honoring scholar athletes. They were looking for another way to serve student athletes playing football become better students and become better overall people. And this program is an idea that was born there and is a program that holistically works with that student athlete not just for the football season, but for the entire school year on those academic and personal development needs.

McDermott: By holistically working with them we mention there that there is an academic coach as well as a football coach, explain that.

Ron Johnson: For years the foundation has been honoring the crème de the crème of college and high school football, the people that actually excelled in the classroom accolade on the football field. There are so many young people out there that have not translated their success on the football field into the classroom and that’s where the academic coach comes into play. And because of social economic reasons they have not fulfilled that part of their potential and the academic coach adds this energy. Gets the football coach and allows that person to coach football and the academic coach that the Play It Smart program provides really accelerated the growth of these young people from a social self-esteem standpoint.

McDermott: You’ve had some amazing results in the three years of its
existence. Briefly tell me about those.

Presbrey: We have been extremely encouraged by those results. We went in three years ago not quite knowing what was going to come from having this caring adult mentor in these schools for the entire school year. By the end of that first year we saw the graduation rates improved. Twice as many students were going on to higher education as the rest of the school population. The SAT scores were improving and the teams were performing community service hours. So they were getting all the benefits from that academic development as well as being able to gie back to the community as well.

McDermott: Now just by virtue though and description we talk about this being a program with football players. This excludes women or girls. Is there a way that you include girls in this?

Johnson: Well, this doesn’t really exclude girls. Right now the program has only been in existence for three years, we are entering into our fourth year. We are a football based. Our mission statement is the National Football Foundation and we are specifically targeted toward football. And we have a long way to go before we really mature this program. So we are still in the experimental stage. Is it perfect for other sports, other genders, and other races? It’s perfect for everybody, but there is still a lot of work that has to be done to get to that point.

McDermott: We have about a minute left. Tell me what your vision is. Tell me what you hope to see then, eventually with this program.

Presbrey: You hit on a great point about women’s sports. We look towards this program to be a model all sports can use. As Ron was saying, we feel that we have the formula. We feel that the formula is in place. We feel that we have the training. And having that caring adult mentor and that caring adult coach in the schools that formula works and it can spread to more schools and it can spread to more student athletes.

McDermott: Ron do you want to add to that?

Johnson: I totally agree with him. And we have been very careful about not expanding this rapidly till we really see and make that the product we are working out is sound and has a good base to it. Right now we are in twenty-eight schools. Jim is that correct?

Presbrey: We finish year three with twenty-eight and we’re going into forty for this coming year.

McDermott: Congratulations.

Johnson: And our goal is two hundred over five years and this is just for football, so we can’t do. We will get there. This is a great program that is designed for everybody.

McDermott: Well, I wish both of you continued success with the Play It Smart Program.