As principal at City High, John Bacon spends most of his time thinking of ways to help his students better themselves.
He was doing precisely that while having a conversation with co-worker Joe Wilcox about three weeks ago.
“We were just talking about going into the summer months, what can we do to kind of kick off summer on the right foot and put some positive role models in front of our students?” Bacon said Monday. “We sometimes feel like we can talk and talk and talk to them and they’re always used to hearing that message from us.
“But we thought, ‘Can we put some people up there that, obviously, would have lot of credibility with our kids, people that have kind of lived it?’ “
Thoughts quickly turned into action as Bacon and Wilcox, who is City’s Director of Campus Safety, scrambled to assemble a panel of nine past and current star athletes from Iowa City and the University of Iowa.
The panel, which included former Little Hawk and University of Iowa star basketball player Matt Gatens, current Iowa all-Big Ten defensive tackle Carl Davis and former Iowa all-America kicker and NFL all-Pro Nate Kaeding, answered questions from City faculty members and students for nearly two hours Monday about a variety of subjects.
“This came together very, very quickly,” Wilcox said.
The event, which was called “Tips for Success” was held in the City auditorium and was attended by about 200 students on a volunteer basis.
“It was great; we just made some calls,” Bacon said. “The cool thing is, all these people were just so excited to jump in and they wanted to help. We’re very grateful to these guys for doing this.”
The panel also included former Little Hawks Kelly Krei and Virginia Johnson, both of whom played for the Iowa women’s basketball team, former Iowa basketball player Kenyon Murray, former Iowa three-time NCAA champion wrestler Joe Williams, former Little Hawk and current Northern Iowa defensive back Jeremy Johnson, and former Little Hawk and current Iowa walk-on offensive lineman Steve Ferentz, who is the son of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz.
Murray, who grew up in Battle Creek, Mich., and played at Iowa from 1992-96, missed the first few minutes of the event while taking a conference call for his job as a sales representative. He could have easily said he was too busy, considering his hectic schedule, but it was important that Murray be there Monday.
“I’ve known John for years, so when he asked me to do it, it was a no-brainer to come down because I think it’s important as former athletes to continue to teach and, hopefully, help kids not make some of the bad decisions that we’ve seen athletes make,” said Murray, who lives in Cedar Rapids with his wife and three children. “This was a good panel to be on.”
Kaeding had the distinction of being the only panelist to graduate from West High (2000). His main message was that you can always find ways to get better.
“Always do things the right way and try hard,” Kaeding said.
All the panelists stressed to the students the importance of setting goals and not taking shortcuts while trying to reach them. They talked about dealing with peer pressure and about making the right choices in life. They warned the students about the dangers of using drugs and alcohol and explained what it takes to be a good leader.
Davis told the students to make a list of goals that they would hope to accomplish in high school. He did that while growing up in the Detroit area and now he’s considered one of the top defensive linemen in the Big Ten heading into his senior season.
“My goal was to get out of there and make a name for myself,” Davis said. “And I feel like I’m doing a pretty decent job of that.”
The panelists also told the students that that they wouldn’t have to achieve stardom in athletics to be considered a success.
Steve Ferentz shared his experience as being a member of the Iowa scout team for the past two seasons. He isn’t a key player like he was in high school, but he still has the same passion for his new role.
Steve also talked about his older brother, James, having to overcome two alcohol-related incidents early in his career as an Iowa offensive lineman.
“It took him twice to learn, but he really did learn from it and it made him a lot better person,” Steve Ferentz said.
The students were told to have no regrets when they look back at high school and that each day is a chance to get better.
Krei talked about the challenges of balancing athletics with academics, something she has done exceptionally well as an honor student who’s now attending medical school. She told the students to make a schedule, like she has for years, and be disciplined about it.
“I stick to it and many times I sacrifice maybe a couple social events, but it got me to where I am and I like where I’m at,” Krei said.
Kaeding and Gatens both said it’s important to practice with a purpose and to identify your weaknesses as an athlete and work to get better instead of just concentrating on what comes easy.
“You have to be honest with yourself,” Gatens said.
Kaeding also said it’s important to appreciate the roles played by parents.
“My folks were awesome,” Kaeding said. “I think the best thing they did was they never really meddled with anything. They just supported.”
Bacon was all smiles afterward and understandably so. It’s amazing what can be accomplished in just three weeks when so many people care about doing the right thing.
“I hope it’s something we can do on a regular basis,” Bacon said. “That’s one of the amazing things about living in Iowa City, is we’re in a pretty special place. I don’t take it for granted with the Hawkeyes here and so many wonderful people here doing great things.
“And so these resources are available and we definitely want to take advantage of that.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.