Hines Ward draws big crowd at Lycoming College

By NICK SEITZER

nseitzer@lockhaven.com

WILLIAMSPORT – In the state of Pennsylvania, Hines Ward is a man who needs little introduction.

Anyone who wins two Super Bowls and produces 1,000 catches, 12,000 receiving yards, and 85 touchdowns for the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t soon be forgotten.

So, it was no surprise to see thousands of people come out to hear Ward speak at Lycoming College’s Keipler Recreation Center in Williamsport on Thursday evening, when the former Super Bowl MVP showed up as a guest speaker for the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania (FCFP).

The FCFP, which was originated in Williamsport and supports nonprofits through grants in a wide variety of areas with the intention of strengthening communities across the state, brought Ward to Lycoming to help celebrate its 100th anniversary.

For his part of the foundation’s centennial celebration, Ward delivered an inspiring presentation on overcoming adversity, focusing on his own experiences as an under-privileged child growing up in a single-parent home.

“I am excited to be in the home of Little League Baseball,” Ward said, in a media session prior to his presentation. “I watch (Little League) all the time and I am a big fan.

“It is an honor to be here tonight as a guest speaker to celebrate the 100th anniversary (of the FCFP), because it’s awesome to see the community come together and give back to the youth,” Ward added. “That is something that I wish I had as a kid.”

Ward, who has been involved with many youth-based charitable organizations through the years, including his own Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation, sees any positive change he can make in a child’s life as a worthwhile endeavor.

“If you can affect one kid, you have done your job,” he said. “There are special kids all over the Williamsport area, and I think tonight is about recognizing them for doing it the right way.

“I think this is something to help them as they embark on the next chapter of their lives, with college and life after college, that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Ward added. “For me to be a part of that, and impact one or two kids to help them stay on the right track, I am all for it.”

The former Pro Bowl wide receiver believes that anytime someone is provided with a great platform, such as the one he got with the Steelers in the NFL, they should use it to help others.

“I think being a celebrity and an athlete, there are different platforms that you can use to really highlight a lot of things that hit home for you,” Ward said. “For me, it’s the youth.

“I am giving back to help those who are less-fortunate and are in a similar situation to what I was in growing up,” he added. “Having that impact and understanding that I can make a difference in someone’s life, I am honored to be a role model.”

As for his message to the kids in attendance, Ward wanted to stress the importance of not becoming a product of circumstance.

“I didn’t use my environment as an excuse of why I can’t have success,” he said. “Through hard work and dedication, and by surrounding myself with good people that pushed me along the way, I became the person I am today.

“I grew up in a single-parent home and we didn’t have much money, but I was still focused,” he added. “I wanted to go to college and I did that. Then I had an opportunity to go into the pros and when I got my opportunity I never looked back.

“I made the most of my 14 years in Pittsburgh, and along the way I have used that platform to open up other doors for me; to do bigger and better things outside of football.”

Though the majority of his speech was directed at the student athletes in attendance, Ward also hoped his message would have universal appeal.

“I think what I have to say tonight applies to not only kids, but people in general,” he said. “You should still have a game plan, set life goals, and execute your plan. No matter what they do in life, I might have a point or two that people can carry with them.

“I am not perfect by any means, I make mistakes,” Ward added. “But I learn from my mistakes, I smile, and I keep moving on.”

Lycoming College athletic director and head football coach Mike Clark was very excited to have Ward present his message to the athletes at his school.

“It is a really unique experience. I think he is right on the generational line for these guys, but he has hall of fame credentials and is certainly a phenomenal player,” Clark said. “We are in Steelers country, so for a lot of these guys to sit there with him is just a very unique opportunity. I am glad the city and the college were able to pull it off.

“I’m sure he is obviously very talented or else he wouldn’t have been able to do the things that he did. But there are a lot of really, really talented people out there who never even come close to accomplishing the things he has,” Clark added. “I think the message of how that happened, and what he had to go through to do those things, is really good for a lot of people to hear.”

If all goes according to Ward’s plan, his words will have helped mold at least a few of those who attended into better, more productive members of society.

“Hopefully, a kid who grew up watching me in Pittsburgh can hear about my story and see a little bit of themselves, and I can be a living example that it can happen,” Ward said. “If you apply yourself well and surround yourself with good people, you can do something positive in the community.”