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Dynamics beyond the sidelines

More Than a Game
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer


Former ECU, Rose stars Smith, Monroe giving back

Pair looking to make difference with youth in own community


While growing in Greenville, Troy Smith saw first hand how difficult life could be in parts of the town he called home.

It wasn’t easy to find your way as a youngster with the lure of drug dealers, the lethargy bred by a community of kids who had no direction at home, and the socio-economic difficulties that make it tougher for children to even see that there is life beyond the small borough they live in.

Event: 1st Annual Pirate Gridiron Classic

Event Sponsor: Trade Mart

Team sponsors: East Carolina Auto & Truck; Allen Hahn (Attorney).

Date: March 29, 2003

Time: 4:30 p.m.

Location: Rose High School Gymnasium

Cost: $5 in advance, $7 at the door (Children 12-and-under $2 and under-2 are free)

Advance Tickets: Call Kevin Monroe at 252-327-1841 or Troy Smith at 252-531-8601

Charity: Future Incorporated (a not-for-profit entity)

Event Summary: Former ECU and NFL players who played at East Carolina during the 1980s and ‘90s reunite to mix it up on the hardcourt at Rose High School to support Future Incorporated, a non-profit agency focused on helping disadvantaged youngsters from Greenville find positive influences in their lives. Some of ECU’s biggest names of late including active NFL stars David Garrard, Leonard Henry, and Devonne Claybrooks, active CFL stars Marcus Crandell and Keith Stokes, and former NFL players Larry Shannon and Mitchell Galloway headline a roster of former Pirates who will converge on Rose High School for the event. Also, stopping by will current and former East Carolina University football coaches. The players will be available for photos and autographs as well as to meet and great all of their former fans and friends. The Pure Gold Dancers, ECU’s dance team, will perform at halftime of the charity event.

For Troy, his parents took him out of that environment and he was able to focus on more positive things. His story turned out, as Pirate fans know, to be one of a star athlete who would taste the NFL ranks and who would 'do good' by his university and his hometown.

For Kevin Monroe, whose family moved into Greenville years ago from Alabama, life was much more organized. A strong family safe-guarded the talented former Pirate captain and defensive back from the world that Troy knew all-too-well. But Monroe was aware of his new surroundings, and when the two young men met at Rose High School, they became the closest of friends, each rounding out life experiences for the other.

Together, with the help of their parents, the two Rose star football players became strong, positive young men. They both earned scholarships to ECU, they roomed together as teammates and all along their athletic and academic paths, the two have remained more like brothers. And, neither have forgotten the memories of those friends from Greenville who never made it out… who never had a positive role model in their lives.

Both Monroe and Smith earned opportunities in the NFL after college – Smith as a wide receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles and Monroe, a corner, with the Carolina Panthers and later the Rhein Fire of the WFL. And, both returned home to Greenville after their respective football careers ended.

Their convergence in Greenville has recently taken on deeper meaning as the two have done what many would like to, but few ever venture out and actually do: They are proactively attempting to change their own community.

“Troy came up with the idea,” Monroe said from his office at AXA Financial Advisors. “Troy currently works for Pride NC, a group that helps behaviorally-challenged children around eastern North Carolina. He also works with students locally. Troy has always loved working with kids and he came to me with the idea of putting together something for the kids in the south Greenville area.”

The collaboration has borne a non-profit agency called Future.

“I came from a neighborhood that is kind of tough on kids,” Smith said from his home in Greenville. “The kind of place, where if you don’t have someone to help you, you can get caught up. I work with kids who have behavioral problems like ADHD and I started think that I could also help kids who are underprivileged… that I could take what I’m doing and I could do something in my own hometown.”

Naturally, Smith called on Monroe to help.

“Kevin and I became real good friends in high school when he moved in,” Smith said. “We continued to be close through college. And for this, he was the perfect guy to form Future with. He was someone I could relate to when I was (figuring myself out) in high school.”

Monroe jumped at the opportunity and the two started to put the organization together in their free time, what little the two have.

“We incorporated and are working on the tax issues related to charitable status,” Monroe said. “In the long term, we would like to connect with the Boys and Girls Club and expand throughout the Greenville area. Eventually, we’d like to be in a building with an after school program and a summer program.

"We want to be involved with day-to-day activities with these kids. Things like taking them to athletic events and meaningful places around the state to expose them to things that they otherwise may never see. Give them an opportunity to know that there are things out there for them to aim at.”

As with any new startup, recognition and involvement are critical to take Future where Smith and Monroe want to take it. To that end, the two are relying on what they know – football. And they are calling on all of their friends, past and present, to give back in whatever way they can. The decided there would be no better way to get the ball going then to have an East Carolina football alumni event.

“We knew that we could get in touch with all of the guys and that they would respond and they have,” Monroe said. “We decided a basketball game would be a good start, though we hope that next year it will be a flag football game tied to the ECU spring game and Pigskin Pigout.”

Smith also sees a nice collateral bonus.

“We kind of figured that ECU was getting a new coach and a new era was starting,” Smith said. “The new coaches really don’t know yet about how much of a family ECU is. I see this as a way to sort of introduce them to the whole family. It’s a way to keep everybody up in the area and all the former players still together.”

The former stars at ECU have responded and will be present for what Monroe and Smith are calling the Pirate Gridiron Classic. For the first year’s event, two teams made up of ECU past greats will square off at Rose High gymnasium for a fun game. The players will mingle with the fans – signing autographs and stopping for photos – and will be available to just talk about old times.

Among the players committed to the event are current NFL players David Garrard, Devone Claybrooks and Leonard Henry and current CFL stars Keith Stokes and Marcus Crandell. And of course, Smith and Monroe will be participating as well.

Many other heroes from past ECU teams – mainly from the 1980s and ‘90s will be there in support of their former teammates.

The event will include a Friday night cookout, the Pirate Gridiron Classic on Saturday afternoon, and a party at Fat Katz on Saturday night. Future is giving tickets out to kids in school and those who otherwise would not be able to afford it. The former Pirates are all chipping in a registration fee to help generate funds, and sponsors like Trade Mart, East Carolina Auto & Truck and Attorney Allen Hahn are helping to fund the event.

“(In south Greenville) there are a lot kids growing up in single-family homes. Many of these kids have no real male role models to look up to except drug dealers and bad guys,” Monroe said. “We are targeting 6-17-year olds with an emphasis on getting to them as early as possible. We want to give them somebody to look up to. Show them a way to keep from being that kid hanging out on the street corner every night. Our mission is support these kids through an emphasis on academics and athletics and through forming meaningful bonds with them.”

This mission is why Monroe and Smith are pleased that their former teammates and Pirate family members have come through when they were called on.

“We knew everyone would come through for us,” Monroe said. “These are the types of bonds we want to help these young kids form.”

In addition to after school and summer programs focused on learning, Future is putting together a flag football league that will launch in May with teams being coached by former Pirates players and coaches.

The two founders are excited about the future of Future. And they hope to make the Pirate Gridiron Classic an annual fundraiser. One that allows more and more of the Pirate family to give back to the town that gave them all a start in life.

“It really is becoming a (labor of love),” Smith said. “Hopefully we can get this thing going to the point where we are full time on it and get a lot of this kids on track so that they can see all the opportunities that are out there for them.”

Note: The 1st Annual Pirate Gridiron Classic is slated for 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 29th, at the gymnasium at Greenville Rose High School. Tickets are available in advance for $5. At the door, tickets are $7 for adults, $2 for children 12 and under, and free to toddlers 2 and under. For ticket and event information, call Kevin Monroe at 252-327-1841 or Troy Smith at 252-531-8601.

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02/23/2007 02:05:37 PM

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