Rowland’s own Vonta Leach, as has become his Christmas tradition, took time this week away from his work in leading the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens back to the NFL playoffs to return to his native Robeson County, where he put smiles on the faces of dozens of local children.
During the eighth annual Shop with a Jock, Leach distributed $100 gift cards to about 60 kids of all races who then bought themselves Christmas gifts at Walmart. Leach, who makes millions a year, can surely afford it, and this event is just one of many ways he has given back to an impoverished community that he is proud to call home.
More important than the money Leach gave, was the time he spent during the middle of the NFL season with these children, many of whom are lacking for a role model and have uncertain futures. That was noted by schools Superintendent Johnny Hunt, who joined in the fun.
“It’s not just the money, it’s Vonta being an inspiration,” Hunt said. “He inspires our students to excel not only in sports but in academics as well. He’s a tremendous role model who gives back to the kids and the school system. In these economic times, it means a lot to have somebody who’s concerned with the lives of our young people and giving them hope they desperately need.”
It it paradoxical, but not hard to explain, that our young people so often look to sports figures for their role models. Doctors, teachers, scientists, police, firemen don’t typically perform their miracles in front of thousands of people in the stands and millions of people who are watching television, so this nation’s hero-worshipping is misdirected.
That’s not the case with Leach, a genuine good guy who can walk past a mirror without a long pause. Leach understands he is a football player, and he has parlayed his God-given talent and work ethic into riches that he honors by sharing with others. The fullback also gets a kick out of it all.
“The first time we did this there was 25 kids and now it’s grown to over 100 something,” Leach said. “It’s warming to see the smiles on the kids’ faces and the parents being so appreciative. I love being a part of this and having the opportunity to do something charitable for my community.”
Leach is a visual reminder to these children that through hard work, they can succeed in life, and he is careful to remind them that the classroom, not the basketball gym or the football field, is the best venue to ensure that happens. That is the best gift that Leach handed out this week.