Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tulsa's “Mabee Babies” are 6.5 Times More Likely to Play for the NFL

--NEWS RELEASE-- Boys and Girls Club in Poor Neighborhood Also Produces Doctors, Lawyers and Journalists TULSA, OK — Robert Meachem, who will play in the Super Bowl Feb. 7, is admired for his talents as a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints. But in his home town of Tulsa, the 6’2” 210 pound athlete is a “Mabee Baby” to Jo Bright, director of The Salvation Army North Mabee Boys and Girls Club and a mentor to club members. Comparing statistics furnished by the NFL to records kept by The Salvation Army, if an athlete has played any sport as a member of the North Mabee club, his chances of playing for the NFL are 6.5 times greater than a football player on a Division I college team. Members of the North Mabee club also have a better chance of succeeding in life than non-members from the economically disadvantaged neighborhood of North Tulsa. Club alumni have become doctors, lawyers, successful businessmen and journalists, according to Bright.... The club, located in a neighborhood with a median household income of $19,145, less than half the national average, has sent nine former members to the NFL in the last 23 years: Spencer Tillman, San Francisco 49ers and Houston Oilers; Renaldo Works, Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins; Aaron Lockett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Thomas Hill, Green Bay Packers; Reggie Brooks, Washington Redskins; Tony Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles; Robert McQuarters, NY Giants and Chicago Bears (McQuarters played for the Giants in the 2007 Super Bowl and the Giants won); Felix Jones,II, Dallas Cowboys; and Meachem.

Meachem said Tuesday he was in trouble “a lot” as a youth, but was only caught once by Mrs. Bright. “She gave me a long talk that was like a whoopin,” Meachum said. “The North Mabee club was like a home away from home. Mrs. Bright pushes you to be the best you can be both in academics and sports. She’s like a mother to the kids at the club. For example, if you had an anger problem she would help you with it. Growing up, we were very competitive and I really hated losing. I still hate losing, but the club helped me learn to control myself,” Meachem said.

Statistics on kids aged six to 12 (ages of the club players) making it into the NFL aren’t available. But NFL research shows that the probability of a Division I player making it to the pros is .06 percent or six in 10,000. About 100 kids play football in the North Mabee Boys and Girls club every year, according to Bright. Of the 2,300 kids who have played in the last 23 years, .39 percent of total players have made it into the NFL making it 6.5 times more likely than a Division I player making into the NFL.

Bright attributes the success of the Mabee Babies who have played for the NFL not only to the club but to their parents. “Each of the kids had parents who supported the child and supported the club,” Bright said. She also attributes their success to the training they received at their high schools and colleges and to their North Mabee coaches – most of them volunteers. “I appreciate the consistency and dedication of the coaches who not only coach the kids at the club but follow the kids all through their athletic career,” Bright said.

The probability of a Mabee Baby getting in the NFL still isn’t great, so what happens with the kids who don’t play for the NFL? What is the likelihood that they will succeed in life in other ways? Bright has sent so many kids to college during her tenure that she has lost count. Former club members have become doctors, lawyers, successful businessmen and journalists.

“North Mabee has been an intricate part in their growth and development, but we don't just teach football. We're concerned with their grades, how they carry themselves in public, whether they're developing into good citizens and we try to help with any obstacles they may have. I think most of the children that come through the North Mabee club, first know that there's a lot of love, lots of hugs and a whole bunch of ‘How is school going?’ ” Bright said.

Athletic achievements aren’t considered in the choice of a “Youth of the Year” award, the club’s most coveted honor. Bright said she looks at how kids treat other kids, how many activities they’re involved in, if they help with club functions, and if they’re keeping up with their schoolwork.

Bright said the kids call her "old school" but according to David Litterell, executive director of the six Tulsa area Salvation Army Boys and Girls Clubs it’s a method that works.

“Jo Bright is North Mabee. I wish I could clone her. When she started at the club the gym was shot full of bullet holes. The club is in a neighborhood that has one of the highest crime rates in the city, but now even the gangs leave it alone. Jo has transformed the club and she’s transformed the lives of the kids who go to the club,” Litterell said.

Several club alumni returned to the North Mabee last year to help with the First Annual Felix Jones Football Camp. Among them were Guy Troupe, former NFL Director of Player and Employee Development and former NCAA Director of Enforcement and Damario Solomon-Simmons, a Tulsa attorney who has many sports stars as clients including Felix Jones.

In addition to the Mabee Babies who played in the NFL, former club members excelled in other sports. In basketball, North Mabee alumnus John Starks plays for the New York Knicks and alumnus Ryan Humphrey plays for the Utah Jazz. The first woman from Oklahoma to play on a Women’s National Basketball Association team was club alumna Iciss Tillis who played at Duke University.

Bright’s son Rocky played for Oklahoma University in 2000 when they won the Big 12 Championship and national championship. Rocky now works for the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and volunteers as a coach at the North Mabee club, along with his father, Darryl. But Bright’s volunteer recruitment goes well beyond her husband and her son. Salvation Army Area Commander Roy Williams said Bright is talented at recruiting and retaining volunteers, one of the keys to a successful club.

“There’s something about Jo that makes people want to do the right thing, whether it’s a six year old at the club or the CEO of a bank. Everyone knows how dedicated Jo is to the North Mabee Club,” Williams said.

One of the programs Bright created that helps get kids into college is the ACT preparation tutoring program. “In 1995, a club member came to me when he was at Booker T. Washington High School and said ‘Mrs. Bright, I can’t pass the ACT exams.’ ” Bright went to area schools but didn’t receive any help.

However, one teacher at Booker T. helped connect her with the right people and she started the program which still continues. For two years, Felix Jones, II, has contributed the funds to continue the program ACT preparation program. Bright personally seeks funding for other programs at the club. “I’ve never been afraid to ask for money – from any company or individual,” she said.

Bright has solicited free dinners for the kids at some of the most expensive restaurants in Tulsa, but only after the kids completed an etiquette class that she organized and recruited teachers for. She organizes trips to Tulsa’s Air and Space Museum where kids get to use a flight simulator. Two of the kids excelled and she guided their interest in aviation.

“Kids want to know that someone outside their home cares about them. They want someone to spend time with them. That’s what Mr. Bright and Rocky and I do. We do kids. It’s our life.”
Writers Note: Jo Bright is an extraordinary woman. She is also extremely modest about her accomplishments and was reluctant to be in any story. In fact, she only agreed because she felt it might bring volunteers and funds to the North Mabee Boys and Girls Club. Thank you, Jo, for allowing me to post the story. My dream for you is that someone will give you and Mr. Bright tickets to the Super Bowl and you can see one of your Mabee Babies play. Any volunteers? Contact me @ 918-587-7801! -Sallie

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